The scrawny peasant girl seemed to think bravery and courage could make up for her utter lack of swordsmanship.
It could not.
Her slender fingers were wrapped around the bottom of a thick stick like it was a two-handed sword, complete with twig crossguard held on by twine. She dug her bare feet into the dusty soil and stood as rooted to it as if she'd sprouted from it; her lean body was as wiry as the tangled shrubs dotting the steppes. The wind stripped dust from the ground and made her tattered tunic flap around her slender thighs and slip off her small shoulders, teasing a body tender with youth but firmed by labor. She had a restless frame, built for adventure and prone to wandering, climbing, and foraging.
The girl stood before her village, though calling it as such was too generous; it was little more than a handful of yurts clustered like warts on the steppes. She and the villagers standing behind her had the tanned skin and feathery, unruly black hair of the Limini, the steppe people. Unlike the other villagers, the girl did not let cowlike, submissive fear dull her sharp and alert eyes. She stood with her sweaty hands clutching the makeshift sword hilt and her shaking legs parted and ready to propel her into action.
Daikari licked her lips and fantasized about peeling the girl's sweat-slicked tunic off, pressing her lips to the taut belly underneath, and nibbling at the flesh until her teeth sank into the smoldering heat pulsating under the sandblasted skin.
"Is this your champion?" Daikari asked the villagers.
They were too busy lamenting their lot in life to respond to her goading. Daikari had raided like a storm among the steppes, and in every single village the humble peasants foolishly believed all they had to do to avoid the raiders' relentless eye was be pious and tend their crops. But these women were woefully ignorant of the world beyond their village, and doubly ignorant of the price their bodies would fetch upon the auction block. Daikari cared not for their sullen sorrow. As a she-wolf, these women were her prey. She did not feast on their flesh like true wolves once did, in the days before the great sickness made their prey die out and then made them die out in turn; Daikari instead feasted with coin earned in exchange for her preys' conquered bodies. But she was a proud woman, and considered it the same in spirit.
She raised her arms wide at her sides and gestured to the pack of she-wolves at her back. Like Daikari, they all wore leather cuirasses, pleated skirts, and calf-length, dust-crusted boots. But they did not wear them as well as Daikari. And though she could not glimpse the wolf face tattooed lightly over her own human features like a mask, she fancied that it snarled more ferociously than their tattoos as well.
"We have steel swords, leather armor, and many raids behind us," she declared. "You have one girl with a wooden sword and scabbed knees."
The girl curled her toes into the hard land. "Y-you won't take us from our homes!" she cried. She tightened her grip on the wooden hilt. "Go away and n-never return!"
Daikari's mouth watered; she imagined suckling those tiny little toes, working them around on her tongue, licking them so the girl squirmed out of her sweaty skin. And all the while Daikari would fantasize further about biting down and severing those pert toes with her teeth, tearing them off like so much meat. Stripping a part of the girl away forever; taking that which she had had since her birth. Daikari felt her belly burn with sensual fire.
The power coursing through her body, the power of life and death, of mercy and mutilation, made her feel like a goddess.
She smiled at her prey. "Or what? You will splinter me to death?" She reached over her shoulder, brushed her braided ponytail aside, and pulled her gladius from its back-slung sheathe. "Freedom is for those strong enough to keep it. You shall end this day either a slave or dead." She held the blade loosely at her side and relaxed her body. "But come, amuse me. Fight for your freedom, girl!"
"I'll defeat you," the girl cried, her voice cracking. "Like Fra Valda defeated the dragon."
"I'm too pretty to be a dragon, whelp. I am a she-wolf! And you are a foolish girl with a head full of peasant fables told by some saggy-titted, herb-breathed folk witch."
The girl blinked sweat from her twitching eyes. She gazed at the villagers in whose name she fought. No menfolk or children were among them; neither had graced these lands in nineteen years. The great sickness had not spared the humans either. The men had grown infirm and weak and finally died, leaving woman to rule the land as capriciously as spiteful maidens.
Encouraged by the villagers, the girl straightened her back.
Daikari's eyes slid down to the slim ass under the girl's tunic. It was tight and firm, and Daikari's mouth watered as she anticipated biting into the savory skin and rolling what little fat there was around on her tongue.
The girl faced Daikari and inched forward across the rocky land.
Daikari did not move a muscle; she liked it when her food came to her.
Hoarsely, the girl bellowed. She ran at Daikari with the sword waving above her head. A clumsy and useless move, befitting a woman whose only experience with a sword was a tale told around a fire.
Daikari nonetheless liked the way her raised arms pulled the tunic tight against her chest and outlined her pert little breasts. They bounced like overripe fruit dangling from the willowy tree of her slim body. She wanted to close her teeth around the tiny cherries topping them, worry them with her teeth until they were tender, then bite down until the cherries popped and their red juice ran down her chin.
Daikari flicked her tongue against her teeth. She was working up an appetite, and the fight was yet to begin.
The girl stiffened her body to swing the sword down.
Daikari was unworried; even if the sword connected, it would not pierce her skin, let alone a leather cuirass.
The girl lunged.
With casual ease, Daikari stepped aside and whipped the flat of her gladius into the girl's rump.
Thrown off-balance by the fat thwack against her backside, the girl pitched forward and landed at the booted toes of the other she-wolves, who jeered and leered at her.
The girl rolled onto her back.
Daikari strolled forward and aimed the tip of her gladius at the girl's throat.
"Yield," she commanded.
Snarling, the girl brought her wooden sword up. Daikari flicked her wrist, knocked her steel shaft into the wood, and batted it from the girl's grasp. It landed five feet distant with a dusty thump.
"Yield," Daikari repeated.
Even without a sword, the girl continued to snarl. Daikari found it strangely amusing, so amusing she let the girl pry a pebble from the ground and throw it at Daikari, which Daikari dodged easily.
The girl scrambled away from Daikari's boots and clambered over to her sword. She picked it up and jumped to the ground, but it fell from her fumbling fingers.
Daikari took measured steps towards the girl, giving her enough time to pick the wooden sword up again.
A she-wolf with stringy auburn hair and a hooked nose cried, "She giving you trouble, Dai?"
"Just playing with my food, Glamnae," Daikari replied evenly.
The girl held the wooden sword at arm's length, as if it was a pike that would keep a line of footsoldiers at bay.
"Why do you keep fighting?" Daikari asked. "You cannot win."
"I'd do anything to save my village."
"Would you die for them?"
Tears streamed down the girl's cheeks. "L-like a good heroine should."
Daikari stopped three feet from the girl and smiled.
"There are no 'heroines', girl. Only those who take, those who are taken, and those who pay for who was took."
The girl swallowed heavily.
Deepening her smile, Daikari feigned leaping at her and relished the way the girl's tight, tense body skittered backwards in response.
Sweat gleamed on the girl's brow and stung her eyes. She tried to shake her head and send it flying, but it would not go.
Daikari feigned attacking again, but this time waited until the blinded girl staggered backwards. As soon as the girl dug her heels in again, Daikari rushed; the girl, thrown off-rhythm, could not back away in time.
Daikari pounced. She came in low, took a huge bound forward, and snapped up, driving her boot into the girl's shin.
With a cry of surprise, the girl toppled over.
Daikari grabbed her by the neck and forced her onto her knees. She beat against Daikari's hands with her fists, but the blows had no effect on Daikari's well-muscled arms. Daikari knelt behind the girl and wrapped her arms around the girl's shoulders to firm her grip.
Tears and sweat gleamed on the girl's cheeks; Daikari ran her tongue up them from jaw to temple. The bitter twang of salt and sand was the perfect seasoning to her cream-flavored flesh.
The girl shivered and shook with disgust.
Daikari gave the girl a hard shove into the ground. When the girl's chest impacted, it sent a puff of dust flying into the air. Before the girl could rise, Daikari laid atop her. She pinned the girl's limber limbs against the dirt and thrust her hips into the girl's slim rump. Though the girl wriggled her waist to worm free, all it accomplished was making Daikari even more excited.
Figuratively and literally.
Even though both a pleated skirt and a tunic, Daikari felt the sweet burn in her belly as the girl rubbed against her body.
Daikari planted a soft kiss on the nape of the girl's neck and stood. The girl thrashed her arms and legs so that she could scurry out of Daikari's shadow.
The girl realized she was not being pursued and flopped onto her back. Her chest rose and fell in heaving waves. One leg was stuck out in front of her and the other was curled against her body, hiking her tunic up and exposing the hair on her mound, which was as unruly as that on her head.
Daikari wanted to pluck each strand out with her teeth and watch the girl's thighs quiver and her pudenda pull into her belly from the pain. She would kiss it between pluckings, just to confuse the girl.
"You said you would do anything to save your village," Daikari said.
The girl stared up at her.
The girl continued staring, but without understanding.
"Surrender yourself to me, and we will spare your village."
The girl's mouth parted and her eyes flared in surprise.
Glamnae said, "But Dai--"
Keeping her eyes on the girl, Daikari stated, "I have spoken. The girl will become my personal slave, to attend to my every want and...." Daikari licked her lips. "Need. Or she will join all the women of her village on the auction block."
The girl was truly defeated. She looked to the line of women in front of the village, whose eyes came alive with hope for the first time.
"These women think you a heroine now, girl. Will you disappoint them?"
Moving like a dazed dream, she girl turned over. She was about to push herself to her feet, but she remained staring at the ground with her head hanging for many seconds. Then she dug her nails into the soil and sobbed loudly.
She stood and, unable to look Daikari in the eye, nodded once.
"Say it," Daikari spat.
The girl's chapped lip trembled. She struggled to swallow down the large lump in her throat.
"Take me as a slave. Spare my village."
Daikari dug her fingers into the girl's tunic and pulled at the fraying fabric until it ripped open. Her slender body was exposed to the dusty air; it was as succulent as Daikari imagined. Her arms and legs twitched to cover her nakedness, but Daikari's stern stare told her to lower them and present her body to its new owner.
Daikari brushed a strand of hair behind the girl's ear while she brushed the cheek with her fingertips.
She planted her thumb across the girl's pouting lips and whispered in her ear.
Their chests were pressed so close together that Daikari felt a flutter in the girl's heartbeat.
Daikari pulled away from her conquest and faced her she-wolves.
"Round up the women, but remember.... spare the village."
"What?!" the girl cried. "No!"
She tried to bolt, but Daikari held her firm and made her watch the she-wolves descend on the flock of frightened villagers like the lambs they were.
"Foolish girl. Many confuse the land for the people who live in it. In this you are not alone. But the people are not the land. They can be taken from it, and bound to some other land. In this, you are also not alone."
As the girl stared in horror, Daikari dug her fingers into the quivering flesh of her new slave and chewed her tear-stained cheek.
Daikari thought that, if she was a she-wolf, this nubile young peasant girl would be her chewtoy.