The cart lurched and groaned over the dirt path; the oxen pulling it balked and had to be prodded again and again. The town’s people followed it, picking their way through the weeds and potholes. The path was quite overgrown, few people coming this way in the course of their daily living. The only sounds were those of the oxen, the cart and the occasional whispered comments.

The cart shuddered to a halt at the huge stone circle. None knew what the circle had originally been erected for, but all knew what they used it for now. A strong fence had been put around the outside of the circle and in the center of the circle was a large flat stone. It was stained where blood had seeped into the rock before the next rains had come. The whole village could have set up camp inside the circle with room to spare.

The mayor waddled up to the cart and spoke to the men that guarded it, “Right now, get her up on the stone. It’s almost noon and I don’t want to be here then, do you?”

The men shook their head, nervously eyeing the clear sky. The reached into the poorly made cart and pulled a young woman from it. She was bound with heavy iron chains and barely clothed in a thin, torn shift. As they manhandled her over to the flat stone, the mayor gazed at the soft curve of her breasts through one of the rips.

The other villagers herded a few scrawny sheep and a cow into the circle. The mayor walked over the girl now lying on the stone. He pulled her shift open and openly fondled the firm breasts smiling at the girl, “Well now Marged, you should have been nicer to me. I could have kept you rather well.”

She spit at him, aiming well. The spittle dripped off his face. “I would rather be offered up like this than spend one moment more near you, you disgusting pig-whore. I place on you a curse of impotence.” She narrowed her eyes into a semblance of the ‘evil eye’, “And if you touch another girl, my ghost will bring the rot upon your cock.”

He backhanded her, but his eyes were wide with fear, “Enjoy your death, Witch.” He turned and hurried out of the circle with the other townspeople. They locked the gate on the fence and the procession began to make its way to the safety of the hill where they could watch.

Marged blinked away the swirling nausea from the Mayor’s blow. She bet her face would be swollen by the evening. Of course she would be dead by then, so it wouldn’t matter. She did smile at the thought of her “curse.” The mayor was too stupid to know that her words alone would do nothing. He would probably be impotent from the thought of her curse alone.

Despite the sun, the air was cold and the stone colder. It pulled the heat from her body until she lay shivering, unable to free herself. She wondered how long it would hurt before she died.

She saw the townspeople standing on the hill. Bloodthirsty bastards, she thought. She decided that she would give them as little pleasure in her death as possible.

The sun crested in the pale blue sky. There was an eerie hush and then sheep stopped eating and began to bleat in panic, trotting around the large circle. Marged saw its shape against the sunlight. It was beautiful, magnificent and deadly.

The dragon glided in the sky lazily circling lower and lower. Its black scales glittered an iridescent green in the light as it swooped into the circle and landed softly. Marged was too mesmerized to be as scared as she should have been. She had been threatened with the dragon for so long, and here it was. She was breathless with the grace of its movement.

She glanced at the hill and saw most of the villagers had fled. A strangled bleat had her looking back at the dragon. It had one of the sheep clasped in its huge claws. A squeeze and it was dead. It opened its mouth, the sharp teeth gleaming. It ate the sheep, crunching it, bits of blood and bone dripping out.

Marged bit back a scream. She wouldn’t give the Mayor that satisfaction. Her trembling was total fear now, the cold of the morning having gone to the innermost part of her soul. This was the face of death. There was nothing she could do but watch the deadly dance as the dragon leisurely ate each of the sheep and then the cow. She must be the sweet at the end of the meal.

The dragon approached her, blood still dripping from its muzzle. It lowered its head and sniffed her curiously. She felt its warm breath on her skin. She closed her eyes, waiting for the pain from teeth or claws. And she waited. And then waited more.

She opened her eyes and gave the dragon an irritated look. It was just standing there looking at her. She just wanted this to be over.

“Get on with it, already,” she snapped at it, “Lord and Lady, didn’t anyone ever teach you not to play with your food.”

The dragon reached out to her with its front claws. She closed her eyes again. It would done soon, this miserable life over at last. The claws closed around her bound body and lifted her from the stone. The roar the dragon gave shook through her. It leaped from the circle, wings beating hard as it became airborne.

Marged watched in horror as the ground dropped away below them. The village was small below her and then gone. Another roar of the dragon and she fainted.

* * * *

Cold. Death was so cold. Marged shivered awake, her mind trying to understand why the afterlife looked like a torch-lit cave. The priests had spoken of a golden heaven and a burning hell. Her mother had a pleasant telling of the afterlife for the good. No one had mentioned caves, or cold ones at that.

She struggled to her feet and looked around. Dirt, rock and the long silver chain fastened into the rock. Still dazed, she followed the chain to a collar around her neck. She gave the chain several hard tugs, but it was sunk deep into the rock. She sat back down on the dirt floor. This couldn’t be the afterlife. She was a captive of the dragon or someone. She blinked back tears, refusing to give into hysterics.

“I see you are awake,” a warm, silky voice seemed to caress her body.

Marged looked up to see a tall man dressed all in black watching her with a bemused smile. His long black hair was pulled back into a warrior’s plait. His features were strong and sharp.

“Who are you?” Marged tried to covertly pull the ripped shift closed.

“I am Lord Bran and you are?”

She noticed he had the darkest eyes she had ever seen. They were black, not dark brown, but black like the darkest night. She lifted her head proudly, “I am Lady Marged.”

He smiled, sarcasm lacing his words, “Really? A true Lady? Do pray tell, why would a small village offer up a true-bred lady to the dragon. Surely they had a pot girl or baker’s daughter to fit the bill.”

“I suppose I was more trouble than the pot girl or baker’s daughter,” Marged snapped.

“Ah, I see. Let me guess,” he began to pace, “your beloved mother married the village magistrate due to financial hardships after your father died. Once she had died, you weren’t open to his advances to you?”

“The mayor,” Marged corrected, “And you are what… a valiant knight that came to fight the dragon, but you became fast friends or perhaps lovers?”

Bran smiled at her, coming closer, “You have a sharp tongue, Marged, but a soft body.”

Marged backed up against the wall of the cave, “Don’t touch me!”

Bran kept coming closer, “Or what? You have no weapons, you have no way of escape.” He was close enough that he caught her wrists in one hand and traced the curve of her jaw with his other hand. “Learn quickly, Marged. You are mine. I will do with you as I please.”

He easily tore the shift open, letting the fabric fall to the ground. Marged did not struggle, but stood glaring daggers at him. He loosed her hands and stepped back to admire, “You are one of the best that has been sent in a long time. Not a pockmark on you. How did you avoid the pox?”

“The villagers said I was a witch.” Marged narrowed her eyes at him, “If you are really a Lord, you wouldn’t be looking at me this way. You would be treating me with respect.”

“This is the way you should be treated, Marged. I am your Lord. You belong to me.”

“I believe I was given to the dragon, not to you,” Marged retorted coldly, fighting the urge to cover her body with her hands. Pride kept her from showing him her unease.

An odd smile slid slowly over his face, “What makes you think I am not the dragon?”

Marged’s eyes widened. Her mother had told her how the creatures of the other world could take human form. No. It couldn’t be. She shook her head in denial.

He stepped close to her again, “Oh yes, your mother was right. I find this form much more… useful.”

“How did you know what I was thinking?” she whispered, truly scared now.

“Dragon secret,” he brushed his lips against her ear and nipped it, drawing blood and tasting it, “Besides, Marged, I like to play with my food. And I plan to play with you for a very long time.”

Marged shoved him back as hard as she could, “Get your hands off of me!”

Bran stepped back and gave her a mocking bow, “So be it, Marged.” He spoke an odd harsh word moved his hand in the air, as if stroking her body from a distance. To her horror, the air in front of her seemed to thicken, and she felt his touch against her body. She ran to the end of the chain to escape, but the hand of air, kept caressing her body, teasing her breasts, moving to the secret places. She tried batting it away, but there was nothing there but air.

“Stop it!” she demanded, curling up on the floor, still unable to escape, “Please! I beg of you!”

He moved the hand of air between her leg, adding several more magical flows of air that rolled her onto her back, held down her struggling form, and spread her wide for him. She was beautiful despite her bedraggled condition, Bran thought as he looked at her pale skin, the curve of her hips, the soft golden curls that nestled at the joining of her thighs. Those golden curls matched the hair on her head perfectly. Women did not have hair cut that short, especially ones of noble birth. The villagers must have cut it. It would grow again, and he was eager to see how it would drape over her skin or feel against his body.

“What do you want of me?” she begged. Oh, how nicely she begged.

“Just two things,” he wiggled the single flow of air further between her legs, searching for evidence that they had raped her, too. No, they had left her alone. Too bad, he had been looking forward to punishing the village for a damaged sacrifice.

“What?” her voice trembled.

He pulled the flow out and let it dissipate, but still held her down, “First, your obedience. I can force you to do my will, but I would prefer the obedience to be from yourself. My orders will not always be easy for you, but through obedience, they will be more comfortable than they could be. Can you obey me, Marged?”

“Yes, I can,” Marged agreed. He was right. He was a magical being. How could she stop him from doing these things to her anyway? She had no future outside of her, no one to go to if she could run. Could it be worse than slaving for the Mayor? That would be slaving for a dragon. “Yes, I can, but I won’t. Kill me and be done with it.”

His smile sent chills up and down her naked body, “Your choice, Marged. Now, the second thing I want of you is pleasure. Again, I can force it from you, and perhaps you would like that? Do you long to fight and be forced to surrender? I shall have my pleasure from you even if you do not agree. But, if you give me your pleasure freely, you will be much happier.”

“I will not give you my pleasure. That you will have to take,” Marged challenged him.

“Of course. I shall be happy to fulfill your fantasies of rape then,” he gave another of those chilling smiles.

Marged struggled against the invisible bonds, “I don’t have fantasies of rape and I don’t want you touching me!”

“You must have been a very troublesome child. You have been honest with me, but I will have both obedience and pleasure from you; believe me that. In time, you will give both willingly.”

He could see the bearing of pride in her eyes, even as she lay splayed like a common whore. Either way, he would be having a great deal of sport. The last girl had fought him so nicely until she broke and jumped to her death. Pity, that, she had screamed so nicely for him, too.

“The day grows late,” he nodded and spoke a single word. The chain from her collar to the wall fell to the floor, freeing her. He loosed the bands of air and smiled, “Rise the and kneel before me.”

Distrust and pure hatred showed in her movements as she rose and stood. Let the battle begin, he thought as he walked up to her, touching the swelling on her face tenderly. He whispered a word and drew the swelling out, smoothing the bruise away.

“Any marks on your body will be of my choosing.” She trembled under his touch, looking more like a scared rabbit than a fine lady. “Make no mistake, Merged, I will mark you as mine, but not yet. I will save that sweet pleasure for later. First you will kneel before me.”

She did not move, so he called a touch of his power and used the force of the air to push her to her knees. She looked delightful, kneeling against her will, trembling in suppressed fury. She would be a pleasant distraction as he trained her, and she would fetch a handsome sum from the demon lords.

“You must be cold, Marged. Come, let me show you the rest of your new home,” he held out his hand to her like a gentleman, releasing the air that kept her on her knees.

Marged stood, ignoring his hand. He gave her a polite nod and led her from this part of the cave. Around a short bend, the cave changed dramatically. The walls were covered in fine tapestries, there were luxurious items that would rival that of the king himself, and most importantly, it was warm in these rooms. She noticed also that each room was large enough to accommodate his dragon form.

“So the other room we were in, that is where you entertain guests?” Marged spoke too sweetly.

Bran gave her a sharp look, “It is a wonder they didn’t name you Atgas, for you are far more hateful than you are a pearl.”

Marged just glared at him.

“And here is my favorite room,” he gestured. Draped in black and gold fabrics, the room was dominated by a huge bed. It wasn’t big enough for his dragon form, but it was big enough for several people. Marged noticed there were chains hanging from the carved bedposts.

He watched the emotions play over her face. He couldn’t really read her mind, but why not let her think so. She was exquisitely readable, “Yes, my Pearl, I will be using those on you.”

She turned quickly, the look on her face, proof that he had guessed well what her thoughts were. She took a step away from him. Closer to the bed, he thought, and she didn’t even realize it.

“Now,” he tapped his chin in mock thought, “I require two things of you…. what were they again, my Pearl?”

“I have a name. Use it,” she demanded, standing up to her full height, which wasn’t all that tall.

“I believe I asked you a question,” he let the icy cold of the north wind lace his words and saw her shiver, those blue eyes widening with fear and understanding.

“You wanted obedience and pleasure, neither of which you will be getting from me,” she stated much like a young lady trying to put her governess in place.

He smiled lazily at her, “Very good. I think it is time to teach you at least one of them.”

“You don’t waste any time do you?”

He pointed at her playfully, “If I continue to hear a shrewish tongue from you, my pearl, I will be forced to silence you.” He waited, almost hoping she would say something. When she remained silent her smiled again, “On the bed, on your back. I’ll be traditional for your first time.”

She gave a sharp laugh, “Just like that? You expect me to hop up there like an eager child? You may be strong and you may be powerful, but you are as stupid as a brick.”

He did nothing at first but gave her that smile that somehow angered her to no end. Then he did that thing with his fingers and she felt the air, tighten around her, lifting her and placing her gently on the bed. She would not give in, Marged vowed to herself. When she was free, she would gouge out his eyes.

She lay stiffly on the bed looking up at the rocky ceiling, waiting for the inevitable to happen. And she waited. After an even longer wait, she looked over to him. He was still completely dressed, and watching her. Did he have some sort of problem?

“Please, Sir,” she said with irritation, “Do you plan to stare at me forever or rape me? I would prefer to be done with this chore.”

“Chore?” he laughed deeply and began to slowly unfasten his black velvet coat, “You liken the pleasure I have in store for you to a chore – like feeding the chickens?”

“Chickens, Sir, have far more personality than you have,” she looked at him with challenge in her eyes, “And I doubt that I could ever find pleasure from you.”

“Yes,” he mused out loud to himself, laying the coat over a chair back, “I can see why they put you there and not the baker’s daughter. Probably the first peace they’ve had since you arrived.”

“I will not be maligned this way!” Marged’s eyes blazed with fury now.

“Then I will find some other way to malign you, my Pearl,” He stood there in a white shirt and tight black pants looking sinister.

“Just get on with it.”

He whispered a word and moved his hand. Air thickened and twisted around her wrists and ankles, pulling the wrists together and over her head, while stretching her legs apart. He liked how this position made her chest rise and fall so temptingly.

He sat on the bed, admiring her body. Yes, she was definitely an excellent treat. He could get much for her once she was trained. The demon lord would be most pleased with such a girl. He ran his hand over the swell of her breast, cupping it in his hand. She filled his hand perfectly. He traced the edge of the areole with his fingernail, watching the soft nipple harden against her will. She inhaled sharply at that touch and he smiled pleasantly at her, “Pleasure, my Pearl, is not something to be hurried. It is obvious that all you have seen is lust. I am very patient.”

“Bastard!” Marged hissed as he leaned over and suckled the nipple he had aroused. She squirmed in her magical bonds, uneasy at the sensations that were beginning to course through her body. Heat seemed to pulse from the suckled nipple through her body until she tingled. Surely this was more of his unnatural magick. He moved his mouth from her breast and she almost sobbed in relief, only to moan as he latched onto the other. His hands caressed her body; his warm touch explored each and every inch of her skin. She felt something inside her twisting tighter and tighter until she thought she might explode and then he moved away from her, away from the bed. Marged lay crying and not sure why. Was it relief; or worse, was it despair.

He walked over to a table and poured himself a goblet of red wine. Sipping it, he walked back to her, cool and unruffled, admiring the flush of passion on her body. He could feel the depths of he passion she hid inside her. It called to his dragon nature, making the fire inside him burn hotter than it had ever burned before. He had never felt this with a mortal before. Idly, he stroked the soft golden curls between her thighs, watching her lift that moist valley toward him without conscious thought. Soon he would explore that valley and then most carefully. He would keep her at the edge until she begged him for that which she didn’t even know.

He lifted the goblet and dripped the ruby droplets on her pale flesh, aiming them so they moved to the thatch of curls. He kissed the path they had made, tasting the fruit against her skin, savoring the taste of her flesh on his lips. He followed the trail to the curls and opened the soft lips there, finding the drops lingering on the pearl of pleasure hidden there. He licked the drops of wine from the pearl, feeling her squirm against his tongue. He laughed as she started a trail of cursing that would have shocked any well-bread woman. He licked the moistness there, tasting and savoring her heady flavor. Oh yes, she was filled with fire that could only have come from the world of magick.

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