The Bowyer’s Tale

The Bowyer’s Tale

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Author’s Note: This is part two of a longer story which began with “The Groom’s Tale”, and I strongly recommend that any new readers begin there.

In fact, I recommend that anyone who hasn’t read “The Groom’s Tale” lately reread it before this one. For one thing, I’ve greatly improved it since the original version. More importantly, this series is about mystery as well as romance and fantasy adventure. You may well enjoy trying to figure out what’s going on and what secrets Arsalin and the others are keeping before the truth is revealed. Karan’s short tale not only introduced several key questions (only some of which are answered in this more complex story), but also included several clues and a few mysteries of its own which would be spoiled here.

Oh, and as a warning to any of you who dislike such things, this work contains explicit gay male sex. It also contains explicit straight sex, implicit straight sex, palace intrigue, a dim narrator, stained glass windows, monarchists, bad manners, good manners, jellied eels, and (I hope) an interesting and multi-layered story full of memorable characters.


Karan the equerry’s eyes were watering from more than the smoke of damp firewood as he finished his story. The others looked away.

The tanner sat awkwardly between Karan and the wild-haired fisherman who shivered as he stared into the embers. When the silent charcoal burner rose and limped to the woodpile outside his rain-sodden cabin, the tanner scurried out behind. “I’ll –uh- help him with the firewood.”

But the handsome bowyer’s fingers drummed on his armless chair as he watched the wind-rattled door for their return. He nearly burst when the old charcoal burner –coming back alone- stopped to wring out his white beard, and he loosed his rambling tale like an arrow the instant the tanner struggled in under a smaller armload.

So I met her last spring. Maybe five moons back, before the war started.

Karan jerked upright.

Well I’d just hiked up to Vanávas- that’s the capital, you know- that morning. And I was- oh! I mean before we joined the war. In Davasan. I know you Leaguers were fighting a year ago. Or something like that.

Karan and the tanner settled back. Lightning flashed outside, but the storm was dwindling again.

Well the war hadn’t started, but the king called us up anyway- the archers I mean. I’m a damn good archer. Any good bowyer has to be able to shoot.

I wasn’t a captain then, but I’d seen the most action, so I was leading the contingent from Savásias. About four hundred men, but only me and Sadaval were from Asvan- that’s my village. Oh and Savásias is a province up in the northeast, but it’s not quite on the coast. That’d be Taraslan.

Anyway, we’d been on the road three weeks and we were all covered in sweat and dust and all. I hadn’t had a girl since leaving home, so I’ll be damned if the whores outside Vanávas didn’t look tempting, but the steward met us at the gate and said to report to the castle right away. None of us believed there’d really be a war, but he was in mail and everything like he expected one then and there. There was even mail all over his… dextrier?

“Destrier,” the equerry corrected politely, “And that’s called ‘barding.’ The Signore has barding for all his horses.”

The bowyer nodded, sipped his ale, and resumed.

So we went up to the castle double-time with him. And I mean up. It’s at least a mile higher on Mount Tandrásas from the city pass. And that’s still not even halfway to the top!

We’d never even seen peaks like those Bastravalas back in Savásias, so the older guys were all panting and stumbling when we arrived.

It was fucking huge. The walls were maybe fifty feet high and made of stone! Gray and grim and bare like the mountain.

The gate was this dark tunnel through a tower. I marched through, glanced over, and bam!

He clapped a fist into his calloused palm.

There was Arsalin looking hot as forge-fire. The wind was blowing her hair way out to here. Never saw black hair before but I liked it straight off.

His smile turned roguish as he leaned in.

It was blowing her dress against her perfect ass too.

I was damned near snow-blind after the climb, so it was a moment before I realized I had no idea what I was looking at. Like she half-seemed like a noblewoman with that scarlet dress and fur-trimmed gloves and cape. I think she even had a gold necklace with some kind of little red gem.

But she was wearing boots. Red and new-looking like the rest, but serious boots. With knives in them and more on her belt. And her bare, brown arms looked strong and hard as any country girl’s back home.

The weirdest thing was none of it looked out of place on her. Except the sword. She had this big sword on her back that seemed all wrong for her somehow.

The others were puzzled, but the fisherman winced and nervously twisted strands of his wild beard. etiler escort

Couldn’t really tell her age right either. Like I know she must’ve been forty-some, but right then I guessed twenty-two or so like me.

I was wondering if this beauty had a husband around who’d lop my head off for talking to her when she waved at me.

Well holy shit. But I just nodded at her real smooth, “Morning.”

I heard mail clink and a horse stop behind me. The steward’s deep voice boomed, “Naught but the archers. Ill news with the Grandmoot to meet tonight.”

She’d been waving at him behind me! Damn was I glad I hadn’t waved back. He stayed to talk with her while one of his men led us on.

The bit of the keep near there was old and grim like the walls, but they sent us around through a bunch of courtyards and it wasn’t all like that. The parts away from the gate were kinda like some of the palaces I saw marching past Virse two moons back. Some of the towers didn’t even have those toothy things or soldiers at the top. One had a big, fancy bell. And instead of just slits, they had stained glass in big windows.

Well they take us down to this huge room in the cellars and it’s full of pools and giant kettles for heating snowmelt. Then they tell us there’s time to wash up since we got there by noon. Music to my ears after three weeks marching!

I was pretty dazed by then and stayed that way till we’d bathed, washed our clothes, and had a bite to eat. You never feel more like a man than when you’re finally clean after weeks of stinking like an animal, you know?

And speaking of feeling like a man, it’s like a whole new breed of girl lived in that castle. Thin and fine and pretty and not afraid of showing some tit over their blouses. I was just talking to a buxom one serving soup when in come three or four heralds with trumpets.

It turned out “my” men got to stay with the girls, but I had to go to a “war council.” Fuck! The hell did they need me for? Sure I’d fought a lot, but just pirates who sneaked through Taraslan. I didn’t know anything about commanding armies. I wasn’t even an officer then.

Karan stroked his grizzled, red beard, “I know what you mean. Suddenly I’m treated like a general just because I’m around the Signore a lot.”

“Thank the Lady for that or we couldn’t be meeting-“

“I’m telling my story!” the bowyer cut the tanner off.

So I say goodbye to the wench and the heralds take me to the throne room. It was all white in there. Marble, you know? With pillars all decorated and banners and statues and everything. Never saw anything like it. It was dim and stifling like the rest of the castle though.

The room had two levels; us group leaders and a few of the king’s men were down on the low one. The king and his brother the steward-

“The steward is the king’s brother?” It was almost the first sign that the small-voiced fisherman had been listening as he brushed the pale scar where his left thumb should have been.

Karan answered first, “The Signore said that’s tradition in Davasan. King Saválas Davas and Asdan Davas the steward.”

The bowyer jumped in, “I didn’t know then; Arsalin told me later. That they were brothers I mean. Or their names.”

The tanner arched a mocking eyebrow. “You didn’t know?”

“Hey, shut up! Savásias was my whole fucking world till the king called us up.”

“Davasan is huge,” Karan told the tanner, “So’s Tir Lindran. Maybe bigger than the whole League, counting Isva. I think I heard the Signore say that.”

“It’s true,” the bowyer boasted, then took a long drink. “I learned to read maps after the battle near Daraigo last moon. Davasan’s half as big as Zhendry. That’s why the king calls us archers up first, see? It’d take forever to muster all Davasan. But he has his elite troops ready. Anyway, I didn’t know this shit then, but Karan said we should share everything we know now.”

So yeah, me and some archers from other bits of Davasan were down on the low level.

The king was on a balcony with the Grandmoot. You know; the steward, the master of the mints, the snowreader, and maybe thirty governors or their envoys. Even with a fancy robe and a gilt-hilted sword, the steward looked like a soldier. Young and brawny like me too.

And there’s Arsalin standing just like him on the king’s other side! No sword, but she had a… I think they call it a ‘diadem’ to match the necklace and the shiniest red gown I ever saw.

They were saying something about being ready if Davasan joined the war. But like hell that was gonna happen. We’d never even heard of the little countries Zhendry got. We’d sure never heard of the blackguard.

So, you know, I nodded along and tried not to look at her. She had to be the king’s consort or whatever they’re called; I’d be dead if they caught me checking out her tits, but there I was again. Knowing I couldn’t have her just made her hotter somehow. Did escorts she just smile at me? Shit, I was getting hard.

Suddenly we’re dismissed. What a fucking relief!

The servants said us contingent leaders got our own rooms. Not all bad afterall.

But first we had time for a “luncheon”. I’d never seen anything like that either. I mean, they were serving real wine – better than I’d ever had- and the servants just walked by and refilled it. I must’ve had three goblets, maybe more. And there were pork pies and jellied eels and huge bowls of thick beef stew with spices I’d never heard of and candied fruits and even fresh fruits and like forty kinds of bread. None of us even knew how to eat half of it, so we mainly just talked.

Most of the other leaders were a lot older than me- and not as good-looking. Actually some of them looked pretty different. I always figured everyone in Davasan was like folks in Savásias -and most were, but not all of them. The ones from the great southern vale were lighter-skinned and kinda lean-like and a few of them even had yellow hair. Still mostly like us though, and dressed in shirts and pants like us instead of your tunics and shit.

Well anyway, we talked a bit different but of course we all spoke Davaska. I chatted with the other north vale types mostly. Some’d fought in that war with Virse, and the ones from Saláhand and Taraslan’d fought a lot more pirates and slavers than I had. Real veterans. There used to be hundreds of pirates on the Sea of Sarahasla, you know, but it’s been getting better these last five years.

The fisherman straightened in his creaking chair, looking as pale as a Tir Lindrani could by firelight. But everyone was listening to the bowyer and he didn’t get to say whatever he wanted to.

Well I was too tired to eat or talk much. I wanted to get another bath, hit the furs, then find a nice wench to bed. Hardy ever been hornier. Mainly it was going three weeks without a girl- back home I had a couple in every village – but it was partly all the wine and partly Arsalin too.

The bell rang three- you could hear it through most of the castle, you know.

So I got up and had a pretty servant girl lead the way to the baths and then my room. The place was a fucking maze. When I asked her to join me in the bath she giggled before running out, so I figured I’d look for her after I’d slept.

My ‘room’ turned out to be bigger than my whole house and workshop back home. For light it had three big candelabra and a… like a ceiling window.

“I think they’re called ‘skylights,’ ” Karan put in.

The chair cushions and blankets- on a real bed- had the black rose of Davasan. A writing desk too, not that I’m lettered. And my first-ever lock on the door. One time Saralas — that’s my little sis- almost walked in on me with this busty girl Tarasha bent over my workbench.

The others winced, but Karan smiled wistfully. “Ameri and I used to make up errands to get our boy out of the house. Asaigo was a good lad. One time he hadn’t come back by nearly sundown and we found him still looking for chicken milk in town. Never lied to him after that.”

The bowyer laughed. “My sis’d never fall for that. She got the smarts, I got the looks.” He really was a rakishly handsome young man. Short, brown hair framed his strong and stubbly features well and in the firelight his tall, muscular build had a sort of primal majesty.

Well anyway, I opened my door and there’s Arsalin! She was lying back on my bed to read a map, black hair pouring off like a waterfall. “Close the door, would you, Sarasa?”

What the fuck was going on? What the fuck should I do? And how the fuck did she know my name? She’d heard it maybe once.

The charcoal burner struggled with their tongue as he spoke at last, “She was… good with… names. All her life.”

“Of course, it’s a divine gift.” The tanner was a true man of Isva. “The Lady-“

“Is a false goddess.” Karan was a true man of the Old League. “She was a great sorceress but-“

“Would you fucking coots shut the hell up? Arsalin worked years –well moons at least- getting our kings to stop squabbling over shit like this so we can kill that Zhendrian warlock-“

“Wait, what?” The tanner swallowed a sharp retort.

“Let me fucking get there!” Sarasa stopped and drained his mug. “Ugh, sorry, old man. Look, I know I’m not smart like you and Karan, but even you two aren’t gonna be able to figure this shit out unless we all work together.” He continued right along to avoid an awkward silence.

Well, I closed the door when she said to again. She’d stood and brushed her hair back before I managed a confused, “Hello?”

Up close, I could see she was older than she’d looked. About forty-five? Her pretty face was starting to crease here and there, but she wasn’t wearing makeup like the other women in the castle. That shit is fucking weird. I don’t like it. We don’t have it back in bagcilar escort the country. Anyway, maybe she was ‘wiry’ twenty-whatever years ago, but she’s pretty built now. In a womanly kind of way.

“Fierce, just like you said.” The bowyer’s approving nod didn’t quite mollify Karan. “But her hair’s black. Not brown.”

The others agreed and Karan conceded, “I never did see her in good light.”

Now Asvan is just a little village, not one of your League cities. Other than Davasaners, all I’d met were a few hairy, highland Tir Lindrani trappers. I’d sure never seen a northwoman before. Her skin was a rich, dark brown, with sorta a red undertone. It was a bit like mahogany or copper but much darker, or like…

“Well like yours,” he pointed at the charcoal burner. “But prettier.”

She was shorter than Davasaner women- just up to my shoulder- and her long hair was clean and smelled like some kind of wildflower. I don’t know much about flowers.

She was smiling at me. “Hello to you too.” She looked me over and slunk closer, “Mmm, fresh from the baths aren’t you?”

I was getting sober real fucking quick thinking about the trouble I might be in. “I -uh- yes?”

“Now that’s what I like to hear,” she purred. Her bodice slid down an inch, but I tried not to look. Didn’t help much; her black eyes were deep and smoldering. And she smelled hot. I was hard before she’d backed me into the corner. This time her tone was sharp, “I hear you’ve been hounding the serving girls. I assume you don’t have a wife back home?”

Hadn’t expected that. “I’m… um… sorry?”

“Back off and I’m sure they’ll call it square. They have enough trouble without hundreds of strangers trying to grab them while they work.”

Maybe I had been a bit forward.

Arsalin sighed. “I said we should’ve hired some whores from Vanávas, but of course the snowreader wouldn’t hear of it. So,” she looked up at me, “you have a wife back home? Fiancée?”

Now that was a question I was used to. “Hell no. I’m too much man for just one woman.”

“Wanna bet?”

“Yes. I mean no!” Even if I hadn’t been drinking, it would’ve been hard not to say stupid shit when I could feel her hot breath on my neck and see right down her gown. I always liked all kinds of tits. Big ones like Tarasha’s that you can barely wrap your hands around or little bouncy ones like hers, doesn’t matter. “I mean -I- you’re the king’s-“

She waved at herself with a laugh, “I belong only to one very special lady. Though I have been bedding your king lately. Don’t worry,” she winked, “He’ll only be mad that I didn’t bring him to watch.”

“What? The king?”

“Oh yes. Most nights he likes to call a few of his men in and watch them fuck me while he gets ready again.” She rubbed one hand along her hip, sliding her gown up so I could see her toned, ebony leg. “I’m sure I could convince him to invite you. If you’d help me out with something first anyway.”

I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. I couldn’t believe I was babbling like an idiot, “What kind of -I mean- no- I mean.”

“No? Very well.” She shrugged and straightened her dress. “If you don’t want to fuck me, I’ll be going. Goodnight and do leave the maidservants al-“

“Wait! Wait I mean…”

She stopped with her hand on the knob. “Yes?”

“Just… holy shit, what the fuck is going on?”

“Well.” Her long hair swished as she turned back. “I wanted to have some fun with the strapping young buck who couldn’t keep his eyes off me. But he’s not interested afterall, so I’ll be on my way.”

“Now hold on,” I played it smooth. I was usually good at that; the girls back home loved me, but I wasn’t used to them being so… bold. It was actually sorta hot though. Ok, really hot. But it was new and strange. Dangerous too since she was the king’s consort or something. “Sure, you look like a great fuck. But I’m no fool.”

Of course she goes, “Oh really?”

“Hey, shut up! I’m drunk is all! No girl’s worth the king lopping my head off.”

“Smart and handsome?” She prowled back toward me, “Hm, but not that smart or you’d have realized I’d be the first on the chopping block if Saválas was a jealous sort. I wouldn’t have come here in the first place.”

It sounded like a good point, though I wasn’t sober enough to be sure. She smirked when she saw my pants bulging in agreement.

“I’m a busy woman. I’ve got others in mind if you’re not interested. But I think I might have heard a challenge. Something about no woman ever being enough for you?”

“You think you could be?”

“Only one way to find out.” She was right next to me again. I reached up to cup her tits, but she caught my hands. “Whoah there, boy, you’d better hear the bet first.”

“I’m not a boy, and I’m not a patient man either,” I growled.

She grinned wickedly, “Then you’ve already lost. First to make the other come three times wins-“


“Hold on!” Damn, she was strong for a woman. “Loser does a favor for the winner.”

Oh I liked where that was going. I’ve had a lot of girls and I’m really fucking good. I just needed her to spell it out so there’d be no wriggling out when I won. “A favor?”

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