First of all, an apology: I started writing the third installment of Futa Centaur a couple of months ago, but, well… life intervenes. I was offered some extra work, and what with an overseas holiday then Christmas coming up, how could I refuse?
Unfortunately, that job also ended up sucking up most of my writing time, with the result that Futa Centaur 3 has mostly just been stuck in my skull. Which is unfair on readers, because (to my lasting regret) Romanced by the Futa Centaur ended on such a cliffhanger.
I’m hating making you wait so long.
Which is why I’m posting chapter one of Futa Centaur 3 (its working title) here, for free. It should at least tie up a little bit of the loose ends left dangling in Romanced. This is a draft, of course, but any revisions should only be minor.
Enjoy, and see you all in 2020!
Gennara stared, her mind whirling. This was Bles? This lanky, mild-looking man with the dirty, gray hair was black-hearted, “Bloody Bles”, the fearsome magician? Apart from his robes and the hair and beard, he looked almost harmless. When he smiled, his black eyes seemed almost to twinkle.
But Sharronne’s furious reaction left no doubt. This was the magician on whom the centaur woman had sworn vengeance.
Right now, though, Bles looked merely slightly wounded by Sharronne’s fury.
“Now, is that any way to greet an old friend?”
Sharronne snarled. “Friend! You’re no friend of mine, you mutilating son of hell!”
“Mutilating? Ohh… right. I guess you’re still mad about the, uh,” he made a wiggling motion with his finger. “So, it worked, then?”
Sharronne screamed and flung herself uselessly against her chains again.
“Well, I’ll take that as a ‘yes’. Any chance I could have a look?” Bles asked, craning his neck to one side. He jumped slightly as Sharronne snarled again. “All right, all right, that was insensitive, I know.”
Sharronne bared her teeth, sweat beading on her skin as she strained against her bonds. Gennara stared at the furious centaur, her mind still reeling from realizing who was holding them prisoner. Andy had been looking from one to the other, her face twisted with fear. Finally, she gulped and spoke.
“Look, I dunno what’s goin’ on with you lot, but I ain’t got nothing to do with it. I don’t want nothing to do with it. Just let me go and I’m outta here, with me mouth shut.”
Bles held up a warning hand. It was, Gennara saw, was covered in scars.
“Now, now, now, not so fast, kid. I’ll get to you and your sister in a minute, but for right now, you better get used to the idea that you’re going nowhere, got it?”
“Sister?” Gennara snapped out of her reverie. She and Andy stared at each other, as his words sunk in. “What in all the hells are you talking about?” Andy seemed too stunned to speak.
“Wait…” Bles looked from one to the other. “You are sisters, right?”
“No!” they both said.
Gennara snorted. “I never laid eyes on him – her – until yesterday. I didn’t even know she was a girl until two minutes ago. I don’t know where you got the crazy idea, but we’re not sisters.” Andy nodded emphatically.
Bles frowned thoughtfully. “Yeah… hold that thought.” He turned back to Sharronne. “Look, Sharronne, I understand that you’re mad about the…” He gestured vaguely. “But you can’t go holding that against me forever.”
“You mutilated me!” screamed Sharronne. “You turned me into a freak! For a joke! A stupid, sick joke…” She burst into tears.
Bles seemed more surprised by Sharronne’s tears than her fury. He blinked. Then, shaking his head, he sat back and fished inside his robe. He took out a small pendant on a leather thong. Bowing his head, he pressed it to his forehead for a moment, closing his eyes. Gennara heard him murmur what seemed to be a short prayer.
“Now, listen, Sharronne,” he said, when he at last looked up. “I think we have definitely got to clear some air, here. I don’t think we’re on quite the same trail. Look, I’m sorry about the, uh, thing, all right? I get that you’re mad about that, but…” He spread his hands helplessly. “You know as well as I do that I had no choice.”
Sharronne stared in disbelief. She opened her mouth, apparently struggling for words.
“You had a choice, you lying piece of shit,” she managed at last. She spat. “You thought it was funny. You ruined my life, and…”
“I said I’m sorry!” Bles interrupted. “It wasn’t my fault. I mean, you can’t honestly think that was my idea?”
“Of course it was your idea! Who else’s idea could it be?”
He stared. “You mean, you don’t know…?”
Sharronne glared. “Don’t know what?”
“Hawkwood. It was all his idea.”
Sharronne froze. There was a moment of tense silence, broken only by her harsh breathing. When she finally spoke again, her voice was barely a whisper.
Bles shrugged. “Oh, c’mon, we both know I did some shitty things, uh, in the service, as you might say. Stuff I truly regret, whether you believe me or not. But…” He shook his head. “You honestly thought I’d do something like that for a joke? I’m hurt.”
Sharronne ignored the jibe. She was still staring vacantly at Bles, but she seemed not to even see him.
“Hawkwood?” she repeated. Her eyes seemed to focus on Bles again. Her expression was bleak, almost desperate. “Why?” She gulped. “Why would he…?”
“Well, revenge, of course. Wounded pride, and all that.”
“But… he… he loved me.”
Gennara’s mouth fell open. But Bles and Sharronne continued to glare at one another.
“Yes, yes, he did,” said Bles gravely. “And you rubbed his face in it.” He shook his head. “You bloody centaurs and your stuck-up attitudes. You let Hawkwood pant after you like a boy, dangling him along on a string. All while strutting around as the toughest, baddest warrior in the company. I mean, you were – but you made sure everyone knew it, too.”
Sharronne said nothing.
“Did you think a bloke in his position could put up with all that, and remain captain? I mean,” he chuckled. “You made him look like a complete ass – oops, if you’ll pardon the expression.”
“But you said…” A pleading edge crept into Sharronne’s voice. “I remember, you said…” She gulped. Her eyes glistened. “You said, if I wanted to be a man so bad, you were, were, going to give me a, a…” Her voice trailed to a whisper and died.
“Sharronne,” Bles’ voice was suddenly gentle. “I didn’t say that. Hawkwood did.”
“But I heard you!”
“You were delirious. Half dead. Hells, I didn’t know if you were going to live or die, much less if it would even, um, work. But before we left you in that tent, Hawkwood, he said it. Out loud, so the boys could all hear. Get the message.” He shook his head. “You only thought it was me. That’s the Mother’s honest truth.”
There was a long, pregnant silence. Sharronne seemed to deflate in front of Gennara’s eyes. She lowered her head and stared at the floor with an anguished expression. Gennara jumped when there was a knocking on the door. Bles stood up. He held a finger to his lips.
“Right. Now, listen to me,” he said in an urgent whisper. “If you lot want to get out of here, do exactly what I tell you. Keep your mouths shut and just act like you’re my terrified prisoners. Let me take care of this.”
Gennara head was still whirling. She couldn’t say anything even if she’d wanted to. Sharronne hadn’t even looked up.
Bles straightened and composed himself. Pulling the hood back over his face, he drew himself up to his fall height – and more, or so it seemed. Suddenly he seemed much taller than before. His entire bearing changed to one of sinister threat. He strode to the cell door and unlocked it.
The same two soldiers were back, carrying another case. Bles stood back and pointed to the bench. Carrying it carefully, avoiding Bles’ suddenly menacing gaze, they put the case on the bench top. They hastily turned and made to leave.
“Stay.” Bles’ voice had gone deeper as well. He strode to the case and opened it. With obvious reluctance, both soldiers stopped. Bles turned back to them. Gennara gasped. He was holding a tiny glass sphere in each hand.
With startling swiftness, Bles tossed the plosivs into the soldier’s faces. As had happened with Fowlds, the glass spheres shattered and a cloud of glowing gas burst forth. This time, the gas was purple. Gennara heard Sharronne’s hiss of breath and Andy’s startled curse, but she stared, fascinated. Instead of collapsing like Fowlds, both soldiers stood rigid. As the gas dispersed, they remained standing, staring blank-eyed into space.
Bles swiftly took each soldier’s face in his hands, turning their gaze to his.
“Listen and obey,” he said with quiet command. The soldiers’ dead-eyed gazes fixed on his face. “This is what you see: the Duke’s cursed magician has brought a captive, a single prisoner, to the black cells. You don’t recognize her: just another street slattern. You did not stay to watch the tortures the Bloody One is inflicting on his helpless victim, but her shrieks of pain and terror still ring in your ears. This is all you will tell any who ask. Do you listen and obey?”
“We listen and obey,” both soldiers immediately responded in toneless voices.
“Then leave. You will return to your quarters and sleep. When you wake, this is all you will remember. Listen and obey.”
“We listen and obey.” They both turned and all but fled the cell. Bles slammed the door behind them and locked it again.
“Well, that’s that much done,” he sighed wearily. He looked at the three prisoners staring at him in silence. “Don’t all thank me at once.”
“What the hells was all that?” Andy’s voice quavered.
“That was me trying to save your asses,” Bles snapped. He slumped back in his chair.
“Listen,” he said, rubbing his eyes. “I don’t have much time, so just pay attention. “What I just did to those two was wipe their minds of any memory that you were here. They’ll go to their graves thinking they saw me torturing some poor, terrified stranger in here. But,” he sighed heavily. “There’s still another dozen men who very well remember bringing you in here, this morning. I need to take care of them, before they gossip.”
“Why?” Gennara stared at Bles in confusion.
“Why? Great Mother, haven’t you figured it out, yet?” Bles stood. “I’m getting you out of here. If I can,” he added grimly.
Gennara watched silently as Bles began rummaging through his case. Eventually, he selected a vial of purple-colored liquid. Tucking it in a pocket of his robe, he went to the door.
“Right. This is going to take some time,” he said, as he unlocked it. “I probably won’t be back until this evening. In the meantime, you lot keep quiet. No parties, whooping it up or general gaiety while daddy’s away, is that understood.” He sighed. “That was a joke, kids. Relax. I’m helping you out, here.”
Sharronne stirred at last and looked up. “Why?” she asked softly.
Bles hesitated. “That’s… a long story. I’ll save it for later.”
With that, he was gone. They heard the lock click shut, then silence.
Gennara looked at Sharronne, but the centaur woman had lowered her gaze to the floor again. Gennara opened her mouth. She closed it again and swallowed.
Behind her, Andy shook her head and rolled her eyes. The girl gave a theatrical sigh, then she pointedly turned her back and folded her arms, before lapsing into silence.
Gennara kept watching Sharronne. She waited for her to say something, anything, but Sharronne just kept staring at the floor, or at nothing, as it seemed. Gennara’s throat went tight. Then she, too, turned her back on the others. The sound of her chains clinking as she shifted seemed to echo in the little cell. She leaned her head against the cold stone wall and stared at nothing, too. A tear trickled down her cheek.
Hours passed. The candles burned down further. The heavy pall of silence that filled the cell took on a tense, angry life of its own. Andy made one or two abortive attempts at conversation, but when neither Gennara or Sharronne responded, she sighed and gave up. Eventually, one candle burned out, then another. Shadows grew in the little room. The silence piled thicker and more tense.
Gennara’s head whirled with questions, demands. Conflicting emotions churned her gut: desperation, anger, resentment. And questions. So many questions.
And memories. Memories that refused to come out into the open. Gennara felt constantly that she was on the cusp of remembering something, something important. But every time she grasped for a sliver of memory, it slipped from her mental fingers and back into the darkness at the bottom of her mind. Gennara felt a desperate urge to bash her head against the cold, unsympathetic stone wall, until all the forgotten memories filling her could just come bursting out of her skull.
There were so many questions she wanted to ask both Sharronne and Andy. They filled and collided in her head until she couldn’t focus on a single thing to ask.
She wondered if Sharronne was wrestling with the same struggle. While Andy shifted, fidgeted, sighed and grumbled, not once, in all the hard, silent hours, did Gennara hear Sharronne move a muscle. The longer she remained silent, the louder Gennara’s unspoken questions bellowed and roared inside her.
Finally, Gennara began silently screaming. A single endless, agonized howl that obliterated the rest of the cacophony crowding her skull. It went on, and on. Then, when it stopped, there was just one question left.
She opened her mouth. Her throat was dry and tight. She swallowed. Counted. Then, without turning around, she asked quietly, “Who was he?”
“Oh, we’re speaking again, are we?” Andy grumbled. Gennara ignored her.
“Who was he?” Gennara repeated. “Hawkwood?”
Sharronne wouldn’t turn to meet Gennara’s gaze. She heard Sharronne take a deep breath and slowly exhale.
“The captain. Of the mercenary company.”
Gennara’s mouth became a thin line. “Right. The mercenary company you wouldn’t tell me about. I guess I know why, now.”
“Oh, boy,” muttered Andy.
“It wasn’t like you think,” Sharronne said quietly.
Gennara’s voice rose. “Oh, and what am I thinking? That you lied to me? About a whole lot of things? Because apparently–”
“You said there was no-one else!”
“There wasn’t!” Sharronne pleaded.
“Oh, gods, do I have to listen to this?” Andy grumbled.
“You said you loved him!” Gennara snapped, ignoring Andy.
“She’s not, you know,” Andy cut them both off. “She said he loved her. Not the other way around. I heard her.”
“Will you shut up!”
“No, I bloody won’t!” Andy shook her chains. “I’m bleeding well stuck here, in a cell, listening to you two grumpy cows have your stupid little lover’s tiff. So I’m going to bloody well get my two bob in, too.”
Gennara stared at her, too shocked by her outburst to speak. Even Sharronne turned around at last, her mouth open.
“Oh, got yer attention, now, ‘ave I? Good. Then bloody well listen and maybe you can sort yer stupid quarrel out, and we can get back to figuring out how the hells we’re going to our asses out of here. You–” Andy pointed an accusing finger at Gennara. “Have got yer nose out of joint because you think yer girl here shagged some bloke, years ago? Well, big mickey whoops. What did yer expect, she was gonna save ‘erself for the love of ‘er life? She’s with you now, ain’t she? Just be grateful for that much.”
Then Andy rounded on Sharronne. “As for you! Typical bloody centaur, ain’t yer? All high-mucky-muck and mysterious, like yer got some big, secret carrot jammed up yer jacksie! Just come straight and tell yer girl what’s what, and have done with it.” She slumped against the wall and folded her arms, glaring at the floor.
Sharronne and Gennara stared at Andy, then at each other. The corner of Sharronne’s mouth twitched. Gennara hung her head, fighting back a smile. Part of her wanted to stay angry, but she just couldn’t. She looked back up at Sharronne and a tiny snort of laughter escaped her lips.
Then they were straining to reach each other. Their chains stopped them from embracing. They settled instead for stroking each other’s faces, whispering apologies. They strained their faces to one another, then fell back, giggling, when their chains pulled them up short. Sharronne settled for kissing her fingertips and then touching them to Gennara’s lips.
“I’m sorry,” she whispered again. “I love you.”
“I love you, too,” Gennara said softly, returning the gesture. Behind them, Andy made gagging noises.
“And what, pray, makes you such an expert on love?” asked Sharronne, turning to arch an eyebrow at her. “How old are you? Ten? Twelve?”
Andy rolled her eyes. “Old enough to have seen plenty of fools making twits of themselves ‘cos they was in love.” She rolled her eyes and spat out the word with disgust.
Gennara felt for Sharronne’s hand. Chains clinked as their fingers intertwined.
“Oh, don’t be such a grouch,” she said. “You’ll fall in love, too, one day, Andy.”
“Be buggered, I will,” Andy shot back.
They all stopped short at the sound the lock turning. The door creaked open and Bles walked in, carrying a large basket. Andy sighed with exaggerated relief.
“Well, thank the gods above you’re back.”
“Oh, you missed me?” Bles said cheerfully.
“Right now, I’d welcome the plague himself,” Andy grumbled. “It’s been as cheerful as a funeral here, mate.”
“Oh?” Bles set the basket on the floor. “Well, I bring good news and bad news, but most importantly, I bring dinner.”