Red Moon: The Thief's Prize
by Martin Drake

Author's note: These tales of sexual slavery takes place in the fictional world of Zantra. Their inspirations come from the Gor world of John Norman, the Conan stories of Robert E. Howard plus countless other fantasy epics. The author can be contracted at drake.fiction@gmail.com and would greatly welcome all comments and feedback. Martin Drake, September 2010.

Introduction

On the world of Zantra, the First Lands are a realm of stark contrasts. They can be seen in the geography. From the scorching central deserts, to the freezing northern wastes. From rugged mountains blockading the west, to fertile plains sweeping down to eastern shores. They can be seen among the people. From the nomadic horsemen who claim no home, to those dwelling in the great city states behind walls and towers of stone. From the poorest work slave scrounging for scraps, to the most opulent thief living on stolen riches. They can be seen in the worldís events. From the open warfare near disputed trade routes, to the secret conspiracies plotted on the senate floor. From the enthusiastic exploration of new frontiers, to the superstitious isolation of fallen ruins.

Perhaps nowhere are these contrasts more visible than in Kal Nuran, largest and wealthiest of the First Landsí many cities. Founded more than five centuries ago, Kal Nuran stands proudly at the mouth of the River Nuran. Its walls are surrounded by mile after mile of rich, fruit-producing soil. Six major highways stretch west, north and south to every inhabited corner of the First Lands. The sprawling docks of Kal Nuran are the largest on the continent and eagerly welcome ships and travellers from mysterious eastern empires. Its markets are the best stocked in the world. It is said that if you cannot find a certain good in Kal Nuranís bazaar then you will certainly find a craftsman who can have such an item made within the week.

Many wars were fought during the cityís infancy. Local villagers and tribesmen resented the presence of the noisy, over-crowded settlement when it first encroached on their traditional ways of life. But the warlike tribes were soon defeated and the villages quickly recognised the benefits of increased trade. Swiftly Kal Nuran grew and prospered. Rival city states were the next to bear arms, each jealous for a greater share of commerce and tax. Fortunes waxed and waned during that turbulent time, but eventually borders and laws were agreed. When the swords were laid to rest, it was Kal Nuran which towered above its neighbours. Then came the time of kings, power hungry men who sought to carve their names in history. They marched their armies to distant lands, seeking to own by force what was freely offered through trade. Time and again they marched out and time and again they returned in humiliated defeat. Even Kal Nuranís deep coffers could not sustain such foolish conquests indefinitely and an oppressed people rose in rebellion against their rulers. Exhausted soldiers were no match for enraged peasants and thus the monarchs fell.

Those kings are long since gone. Today the city is ruled by its glorious senate, wise elected representatives of all the people. The walls of Kal Nuran have not seen war for three generations. Battles may still be fought when new mines are exposed or against invading brigand raiders, but such skirmishes take place far beyond the horizon. The citizens of Kal Nuran fear no aggressor and live contentedly, pursuing their trades, crafts and the pleasures of life.

Indeed life in the soaring city has many pleasures to offer. The most succulent meats, tastiest breads and sweetest fruits are found on dinner tables of even the poorest homes. Wines, ales and exotic spirits flow freely from countless taverns, loud music and raucous laughter filling the air long into the night. Great libraries, theatres and debating forums offer intellectual pastimes to those with educated minds. The gladiatorial games, chariot races and street bards cater to the simpler lusts of the common masses. Of course, when discussing matters of pleasure, a special note must be made of the delectable men and women found everywhere from the lowliest alehouse to the most elite brothel and even in several noble villas. Offering carnal delights to every social class and satisfying every personal craving, the pleasure slaves are surely Kal Nuranís most famous jewels.

Slavery is an accepted part of life in the First Lands. Certainly the highest numbers of the subjugated and the landís busiest auction houses are to be found in the city states themselves, but the smallest farm has at least one labour slave and the most remote nomads profit to some extent from captured stock. Only criminals and uncivilised foreigners may be contracted into slavery and even they are protected by ancient laws. These edicts define humane conditions for the purchase and treatment of the captive. Every slave must be registered to an owner, marked with a collar or bracelet of identity, and examined yearly to assess their health and well-being. Those who abuse their property beyond accepted limits are dealt with harshly. The most severe punishments are reserved not for slaves, but for those fools who would dare to abduct a freeborn citizen and sell them on for profit.

Almost every menial job in Kal Nuran is carried out by an enslaved man or woman. They plough fields, carry heavy burdens, sweep streets and clean homes. Yet these hard-working individuals often pass unnoticed, for when one thinks of a slave oneís thoughts cannot fail to focus on the pleasure slaves. Caged outside taverns, dancing on street corner pedestals, chained beside alehouse tables, kneeling before temple altars; they are everywhere. Naked or clad in flimsy robes, unrestrained or cuffed and gagged, slender young girls or strapping lads. They will dance for you. They will let you touch their most intimate places or bring you to the heights of pleasure with their lips. They will let you bind them, spank them, whip them. Provided their owner is recompensed and no laws are broken, a pleasure slave will serve as only they can.

There is no shame in the life of such a slave. A stubborn few may yearn for former homes, but most recognise the vital position their role plays in society. The truly successful, those who attract the richest purses, come to enjoy the services they provide. ĎOur pleasure is to bring your pleasureí is the whispered vow of these precious captives. There is also room for ambition and advancement through their subservient careers. If she pleases a wealthy master well enough, he may purchase a young woman outright and keep her as his private luxury. These Ďcollared-wivesí enjoy a lifestyle similar to many freeborn. They are fed well, clothed beautifully, given an education, and may even be pampered by their own slaves. They can walk the streets freely, although a bracelet of ownership must always be visible, and can dine in the company of senators, merchant princes and societyís elite. Collared-wives proudly bear their masterís children, with sons and daughters gaining full rights of inheritance with no stigma attached.

Equally, there is no shame in overt displays of sexuality. A warrior may need armour for protection, or a traveller require a cloak for warmth, but what need does a slave have to hide her charms? Most masters or mistresses provide their property with thin garments which only serve to tease, or arouse thoughts of what lies below. A man will eat or drink in public, why should he not openly sate his other desires? Lust for the opposite sex is common to all healthy men and women of the First Lands. Privacy is respected when desired, but usually sexual needs are freely expressed and celebrated as part of the wonder of nature. It may be that such openness stems from the dominant religious culture found across the First Lands. Less illuminated wilderness dwellers still pay homage to the spirits of animals, trees and stars, but the vast majority of civilised folk worship Branin and Seleah, the Father and Mother of all life.

Branin is masculinity. He is Hunter, Warrior, Husband and Father. Revered by soldiers and craftsmen of both genders, his temples are strongholds adorned with weapons of iron and bronze. Strength, courage, passion and honour are found among his favoured. Seleah is femininity. She is Lover, Healer, Wife and Mother. Revered by farmers, midwives and families, her churches are open to the sky and decorated with offerings of flowers, wheat and silk. Compassion, beauty, patience and grace are granted to her chosen. (There is talk of a dark cult who worship Seleah as a cruel dominatrix, a sadist who prostitutes her three daughters to every depraved lust of men. If such a vile blasphemy does exist, it does so far from the light of day).

For most of the year, Branin and Seleah inhabit Zantraís two silvery moons. They maintain a respectful distance, tending to private affairs and content to fondly gaze at one another across the night sky. But every four months, the power of their yearning grows irresistibly strong. The moonsí orbits are drawn together, the celestial orbs edging closer and finally seeming to merge into a single red disc, glowing bright with passion from the deitiesí intimate union.

When Branin and Seleah cavort in the heavens, fierce desires seize the men and women of the First Lands. Blood pulses with an unquenchable thirst, hearts pound to a wanton rhythm. All inhibitions are forgotten as male and female dance and freely make love beneath the burning stare of their lustful Red Moon.

Chapter One

For a man born among the horsemen of the northern steppes and raised in the freedom and splendour of the wilderness, Kurt had developed an unusual fondness for the sprawling metropolis of Kal Nuran. In fact, it wouldnít be an exaggeration to say that he loved this city. The hiving chaos of the bazaar, the olfactory assault from countless men and animals, the claustrophobic alleyways and soaring stone towers; all the things which normally drove his countrymen away just pulled him deeper into the urban jungle. True, the cityís Ďcivilisedí natives might call him barbaric, but with his purse full they would treat him with as much respect as any other man. Gold coin was a true social leveller in this city of greed.

Kurt leant back in his chair and let the nightís atmosphere wash over him. His table sat at the very edge of the tavern, close to its open door. Behind him he could hear the sounds of music, laughter and a dozen loud conversations. The smell of ale, food, unwashed bodies and narcotic smoke filled the room. Heat from the great fire pit and hanging lanterns warmed his back. The barbarian enjoyed the easy going nature of this particular tavern, but most of all he loved its location.

Peering through the open door, Kurt could see the looming building across the street. A twelve foot wall stood beside the road. Behind it, a four-storey palatial home rose into the sky. He had counted three armed guards along this length of wall. Two occupied fixed sentry positions, the third marched a circuit which passed by every two minutes. The grounds behind the wall were hidden from sight, but Kurtís sharp ears had heard barking from at least two dogs. He doubted that they were pampered house pets.

Senator Xinthar could certainly afford to pay for such elaborate security, mused Kurt. Officially every senator cast an equal vote, but it was no secret that Xinthar held greater influence than most of his peers. Very few decisions were made in Kal Nuran without the old manís approval. His interests outside politics were equally impressive. He had inherited a thriving wine business and expanded it to encompass just about every aspect of local trade. He owned at least three sea vessels and had a fifty percent share in the most prosperous slave auction. Such enterprise generated great wealth. The vaults beneath his home were said to rival the cityís own reserves and housed priceless pieces of art from across the First Lands. That small fact explained Kurtís interest.

"Your meal, my lord."

Kurt glanced up. The serving slave had arrived with his dinner. She stood beside his table, her head lowered, holding out a tray with a steaming bowl of stew and a large hunk of oiled bread. The barbarian nodded in approval. It smelled delicious and he was ravenous, not having eaten since breakfast. The girl set the tray in front of him, filled his tankard with the jug of warm ale and then waited for further instructions. Kurt pointed to a space on the floor next to his chair.

"Kneel here."

This was a well staffed tavern. There was a serving slave for every table. The girlís sole purpose for the evening was to wait upon Kurt. She settled beside him, resting on her knees, her eyes focused on the fur trim of his boots as he tore into the stew.

While he ate, Kurt turned back to thoughts of Senator Xintharís fabled wealth. Such riches were too tempting a target for any self-respecting thief to resist. Four had tested their luck this year alone. One idiot had died on the walls while still attempting to gain entrance, another was said to have reached the vaults before meeting his demise in some deadly trap, the last two had been taken alive and later hanged by the city gates. Kurt judged them all to be fools. He was certain that he could meet the challenge. He knew that he had the necessary skills. It was just a matter of patience and careful planning.

He looked out the door. It was getting too dark for further surveillance. He would have liked to learn the timing of the change of guards, but that could wait for another time. The barbarianís eyes drifted to the heavens. It was the month of the Red Moon. Already the two white moons were beginning their eclipse; the god, Branin, starting a slow dance of foreplay with his celestial lover, Seleah. A red haze obscured the envelope of their overlap. Kurt raised his tankard in a toast to the Hunter and wished him success for the nights ahead.

With an impressive belch, he swallowed the last of the bread. The food had tasted every bit as good as it had smelled. A few scraps of meat were left in the bottom of his bowl. Picking them out with his fingers, he offered them to the kneeling slave.

"Are you hungry, girl?"

She lifted her head and watched him with large cautious eyes, suspecting some sort of taunting joke. Seeing no trickery in his gaze, she hesitantly nodded. Kurt smiled and gestured for her to take the morsel. The girl delayed for another brief second then placed her two small hands around his massive fist. She leant forward and nibbled timidly at the meat, her lips and tongue tickling against his fingers.

"Hey, thereís no need for that. Sheís fed well enough and I donít need her spoiled."

Kurt glared at the shouted complaint from the fat landlord. Selfish bastard. No doubt his slaves were kept fit enough to pass their yearly health checks, but the ribs showing through her skinny chest made it apparent that the girl was far from overfed.

"Are you telling me how to conduct myself?" Kurt phrased the question as a threat.

Seeing the ripple of muscles along the barbarianís shoulders, the innkeeper hastily raised his hands, "No, no. Itís your coin. Waste it as you please."

Kurt held his threatening stare for a moment longer then turned back to the girl. His cold expression grew softer. She really was a pretty little waif. She couldnít have been more than five feet tall and seemed much smaller as she knelt in his huge shadow. The iron collar locked snugly on her throat looked even more imposing than it did on most slave girls. He suspected that she must feel its heavy weight at every second. Her other garments were a scant pair of bra and panties made from torn patches of leather. They provided minimal warmth and just as little modesty. The long tresses of her dark hair provided her only real concealment, falling down her back and over the front of her breasts.

"What is your name?" He asked the question softly when she had swallowed the last of the meat and licked his fingers clean.

"Whatever you wish it to be, my lord."

Kurt laughed. You certainly couldnít fault her manners. "What is your real name? The one your mother gave you."

"Lenna, my lord. It ... it means Ďfragile oneí."

An unexpected swell of tenderness caught the big man by surprise. It was such an appropriate name and stirred his protective instincts.

"I was very sick when I was born. The people of the village did not expect me to survive." The girl whispered so quietly that Kurt had to strain to hear her words. It seemed that she was embarrassed at revealing such personal information.

He reached out to stroke her long hair then tilted her chin to face him. The girl refused to meet his gaze, shielding her eyes behind long lashes. The barbarian made an impulsive decision. He shouldered his pack and lifted the large broadsword resting against his chair. Several straps hung from hooks for the customerís convenience. He took one and clipped it to the slaveís collar then raised her to her feet.

"Come with me, fragile one." On the way to the stairs he flicked a coin towards the landlord. "Iím keeping this one for the night."

When they reached his rented room, Kurt lit one of the oil lamps before closing and locking the door. He dumped his belongings and weapons in a far corner then lazily kicked off his thick boots. The barbarian wore neither shirt nor tunic over his heavily muscled torso. When he unbuckled his wide leather belt and tossed it away, his only remaining clothing was a pair of travel-stained breeches which fit tightly to his tree-trunk legs. With a wide yawn that seemed to last forever, Kurt fell onto the roomís narrow bed.

The slave girl, Lenna, hadnít moved since they had entered the room. She stood near the locked door, shuffling from foot to foot, unsure of the manís desires. The leash still hung from her collar, dangling between her small, leather-clad breasts.

"Remove the strap," instructed Kurt.

She did so, unclipping it from the ring of her collar then neatly folding the narrow band. She looked around uncertainly before giving a slight shrug. Carrying the leash across her open palms, she humbly placed it on the bed, close to Kurtís bare feet. The task complete, the small slave returned to her waiting position near the door.

"Undress."

It seemed she gave a soft sigh. Of disappointment? Resignation? Kurt found her expression hard to read. Whatever her feelings, Lenna obeyed his command. Still keeping her eyes lowered, she slowly moved her hands to her chest and pulled on the string fastening the cups of the bra. She peeled the thin garment away, allowing the roomís cold air to caress the sensitive skin of her breasts and the stiffening tips of her nipples. With a graceful little shrug, she let the straps fall from her shoulders and slide down her slender arms.

From his reclined position on the bed, Kurt drank in the show. Somehow her skinny frailness just made her seem more attractive. When she turned her back to him and pulled down the tiny panties, he felt himself grow hard within his trousers. She moved slowly and deliberately, keeping her legs straight and bending at the waist to push the underwear down her thighs, past her knees, off one foot and then the other. The protracted striptease gave him a full view of her lovely little ass and the feminine opening between her legs. He wondered how long she had been a slave. She seemed so young, but her purposefully erotic movements spoke of years of training.

Now completely nude, save for the heavy iron collar, Lenna turned and finally looked Kurt in the eyes. Her steady gaze seemed to offer a challenge, waiting to judge his next move. The barbarian had never backed away from a challenge in his life and was not about to start now. He rose from the bed and towered over the girl. Her head barely reached his shoulders. When he bent his neck, she still had to strain on tip-toes to meet his kiss. Their lips pressed together softly at first, a tender initial contact to explore the shape and texture of each otherís mouths. The kiss gradually grew more passionate. Kurtís tongue slipped between Lennaís lips and met her own eager tongue. Her teeth closed gently and held him inside her mouth, letting him revel in her taste. It was difficult to know who was devouring whom.

They held that position for long moments, tongues entwined, lips tightly locked. In the end it was Kurt who broke the kiss with a sudden gasp of surprise. Lennaís hands had pushed against his crotch, seeking the stiff erection trapped inside his breeches. Her small hands glided down the bulge, causing his maleness to grow harder and longer.

"Naughty girl." Kurt pulled the slaveís hands away and scolded her boldness. A flicker of fear showed in her eyes before she recognised his teasing tone and smiled. That smile quickly faded when his broad hand smacked across her backside. Kurt grinned and sat at the edge of the bed. He dragged Lenna after him and threw her across his lap.

"Who told you that slaves could take the initiative with their masters?" His voice was still light and joking, but he nevertheless reached into the wooden drawers beside the bed and brought out a three foot strand of rope.

"Iím sorry, my lord. I just longed to feel your cock. I only sought to please you."

Her answer made Kurt chuckle as he crossed and bound her wrists, looping the rope several times, knotting it, then circling across the first loops and cinching everything nice and tight. By Branin, she was a clever little wench. Just the right amount of submissive humility mixed with an obvious invitation for further sexual games. He spanked her ass again then lifted her and placed her on the floor, kneeling before him with her arms bound behind her back.

The tall barbarian stood and looked down at her with the same broad grin, "You want to feel my cock? Very well, then. Letís see how you manage without your greedy little hands."

Lenna tilted her head in a question of confusion then nodded as understanding dawned. She edged forward on her knees then pushed up so that her face could reach the drawstrings of her masterís trousers. Her small teeth worked with deftness, loosening the simple bow then tugging the strings apart. Kurt held his breath, not daring to breathe for fear he would be unable to contain his lust. Lennaís nose and chin nudged the folds at the front of his breeches. She tutted with frustration when she couldnít part them far enough to free his throbbing penis.

"Let me help you." This was no time for pointing out her failures. Kurt quickly stripped away his clothing and threw them against a wall.

The slave girl gave a quiet gasp of awe. The man was enormous. His proud shaft matched the giant proportions of his powerful physique. Her wide eyes stayed fixed upon her target as she placed a sweet kiss on the head of his beautiful organ. She continued down the length of the erection, leaving a trail of kisses which seared into his skin. When she arrived at the base of his cock, her nose delved into the dense forest of his pubic hairs, savouring the odour of his manly musk. Her tongue ran along the fleshy sack which held his testicles, swirling her mouth around the first and then the second of his heavy balls.

Lenna rocked on her heels. She opened her lips and moved them back to the head of his penis. Sucking gently, she drew him inside her mouth. A low growl of exquisite pleasure rumbled from Kurtís throat. He felt her lips slide down his cock, her tongue licking and teasing while she continued to suck with increasing energy. He marvelled at her obvious skill. Her actions demonstrated experience which belied the innocence of her youthful face. Her head was bobbing in a slow rhythm, drawing him deep into her throat then withdrawing until only his twitching head was circled by her lips. Wherever did she learn such wonderful techniques?

The barbarian pulled away with a ragged sigh. She was pushing him to the edge, but he wasnít ready to finish so soon. The girl looked up with clear disappointment showing. A glistening dribble of his pre-cum trickled down her chin. Her tongue licked it away with a sly grin and she hummed in enjoyment of the salty taste.

"Get on the bed."

Kurt offered no help as the slave awkwardly moved to obey. With her arms tied behind her, her balance was clumsy, but somehow she managed to sway to her feet and clamber onto the bed. Once there, she rolled onto her back, resting on her bound arms and keeping watch for Kurtís intentions. There was no sign of her earlier coy shyness. She eyed him hungrily, wanton desires sparkling in the depths of her large, brown eyes.

The barbarian had retrieved two more lengths of rope. He bent the girlís left leg so that the ankle pushed back against her thigh. Four neat turns with the rope bound the limb in position, two more passes between thigh and ankle ensuring that the bonds couldnít slip loose towards her knee. He pushed her right ankle towards the right thigh and tied it with matching knots. This was his favourite position for a slave girlís bondage. The perfect compromise between restraint and accessibility.

He proved that point by pushing her thighs apart and lying between her spread legs. While his hands reached up to fondle her breasts, crushing her small tits and pinching at her nipples, he moved his mouth over her wet pussy. It was his turn to show off his oral skills. His wide tongue lapped along her vaginal lips then flicked forward to the swollen bud of her clitoris. Lenna gave a soft, animal whimper, her moans giving voice to her mounting needs. Kurt used his teeth to nip at the hyper-sensitive clit, smiling at her small shriek, then pushed himself along her body, licking past her belly-button, through the valley of her cleavage and into the soft hollow of her throat. It may have been her job to pleasure him, but he took just as much joy in seeing to her desires. Her moans of approval only added to his own arousal.

It was time to give them both some satisfaction. Kurt moved himself into position, lifting his body from the bed then lowering his hard cock to her slick opening. Despite her wetness and clear readiness, the man had to apply firm pressure to squeeze himself inside. Lenna squealed and shook with intense tremors, losing herself in a flood of unbelievable sensations as his member filled her pussy to its limits. She screamed louder still, cries of utter ecstasy, when he began to thrust with long, controlled actions. Kurt clamped a palm over her mouth, muffling the cries, almost covering her entire face with his large hand. He couldnít believe how good she felt, so tight and hot. His weight pressed down on her bound and pinned arms, an element of pain combining with her raw sexual pleasure. Regardless of the restrictions from her bondage, she was doing her best to fuck him in return, her hips rising as far as they could to meet his mighty strokes. He rode her towards a dizzying orgasm and even his hand couldnít silence her screams when she finally crashed over the brink.

The barbarian had yet to achieve his own climax. He was so close, but still had the willpower and stamina for one more variation. Most men would have spent themselves long before now, but Kurt prided himself on getting value for his money.

Lenna made a disappointed sound when he withdrew his still stiff penis, but it was only to be a momentary parting. The burly male rolled onto his back then lifted the petite slave girl, helping her to straddle across his waist. His hands raised her hips into the air and guided her back down to his manhood. It was an easier fit this time, but still just as deliciously snug and warm. Now she could set her own pace and she launched into the task with gusto. It was almost comical to watch her hop up and down on her bound legs, but Kurt was not in a frame of mind to consider such humour. He groaned and steadied her motion as she bounced on his erection. Her long black hair fell untidily around her shoulders, a few strands plastered to the sweat beading her forehead. Kurt hooked a finger through the ring of her collar and dragged her head down for another fierce kiss. Her short body almost couldnít stretch to cover his mouth and penis at the same time, but with his help she repositioned herself and managed to maintain both intimate points of contact. Now her hair fell in a curtain around both their faces.

By this stage they were completely attuned to mutual needs and movements. Lenna nuzzled into Kurtís neck as his tongue navigated the twisting cavity of her ear. Her fingers flexed behind her back, her hands pulling desperately against their bonds. She sensed Kurtís sharp intake of breath more than she heard or felt it. His massive arms engulfed her small frame in a crushing bear hug and she just had time for one last deep thrust ahead of the overwhelming violence of their joint eruption. The juices of her cunt mixed with his torrent of semen as they came together in physical and emotional unity. The girlís head collapsed against the barbarianís strong shoulder. She was almost weeping from released tension and joyful exhaustion.

Kurt held her like that for several long minutes, waiting for his own hammering heartbeat to slow. Gently, tenderly, he rolled them both onto their sides. His softening penis remained semi-erect when he eased it from her pussy, keeping it nudged against her thighs.

"Thank-you, my lord. My pleasure was to bring you pleasure." There was no false submission in Lennaís whispered words, no hollow recitation of a slaveís expected litany. Her soft eyes were filled with warmth. Her lips pressed a delicate kiss to the muscles of his arm.

Kurt smiled at her beauty. He unknotted the ropes at her thighs, allowing her to stretch her legs with a happy groan of relief. He reached across to the drawers and pulled out a narrow band of white cloth. After placing his own kiss upon her lips, he tied the gag in place.

"Hush, fragile one. You would drain the strength of even the strongest warrior. Be silent now and let me rest."

Feeling her cuddle closer, Kurt drew a thin blanket over their bodies and placed a proprietary hand on her bound wrists. With the pretty slave girl at his side, tied and gagged for the night, the barbarian thief closed his eyes and drifted into peaceful slumber.

Chapter Two

Rays of morning sunlight slanted between wooden shutters, slowly rousing the burly thief back to wakefulness. Kurt grunted, wiped groggy sleep from his eyes and stretched lethargic muscles. He was getting soft. A plainsman should be awake before the dawn, instantly alert to danger and quick to reach for weapons. Apparently a few weeks in a padded bed was all it took for him to put aside the habits of a lifetime and grow just as weak and lazy as any city-bred fool. The truly sad part was that he didnít particularly care. In fact he couldnít recall a time in his life when he had felt so utterly content as he felt right now.

The main source of that contentment was curled by the barbarianís side. Lenna, the scrawny little slave girl, dozed with her head resting against her masterís broad chest. She was naked save for her iron collar and the magnificent cloak of her long black hair. The girlís wrists were secured behind her back, crossed and bound by cords Kurt himself had tied. Her lips were cleaved by a narrow strip of cloth, the gag damp after being worn throughout the night.

Kurt carefully eased to the side and propped himself on one elbow, his dark gaze watching the slave as she slept. He reached over to gently stroke a finger along the smooth skin of her bared shoulder. The swell of her breasts rose and fell with each slumbering breath, the pale mounds half-squashed against his own rugged flesh. He marvelled again at the beauty of her vulnerability. Her small body looked so weak, so frail and defenceless. Bound as she was, she would be helpless to resist his desires. He could do anything he wanted to her, take anything he wanted from her. This fragile creature must submit, willingly or not, to his most depraved urges and yet all he wanted to do was cradle her protectively in his arms. The barbarian laughed to himself. He really was going soft.

The rumble of amusement stirred Lenna from her rest. Arms flexed instinctively, tugging against the tight ropes binding them in place. A mewing whimper escaped past the gag, teeth chewing impotently on the band dragged deep into the corners of her mouth. The feeble struggles stilled as awareness gradually returned, the tavern slave well-accustomed to waking in enforced bondage. Long lashes blinked away the nightís sleepy residue. The girl shuffled round as best she could until her eyes met those of her master. Kurt continued to watch, enjoying the ungainly contortions of her bound form, pleased at the way she lay there, meekly awaiting his word.

At length he smiled, pushing back a thick tangle of her hair, "Well, slave? No morning kiss of greeting? Perhaps you would like to express gratitude for sharing my bed and not a cold hard floor?"

A warm glow of happiness seemed to light the girlís eyes in response to his playful reprimand. Kurt laughed again. She really was an eager little thing. He had never known a slave so enthusiastically devoted to his pleasure. His laugh turned to a murmur of appreciation when she lifted herself to press tender lips against his chest. Even though her mouth was gagged, she somehow worked her tongue past the cloth, running its tip around the contours of his muscled abdomen. Without waiting for guidance or permission, clearly knowing what she was about, she began to wriggle her way down the bed, planting a line of moist kisses as she went.

Kurt felt his cock twitch into life. His hand closed around the erection, stroking slowly as his delightful companion continued her sensual progress, lips and tongue now lapping at his navel. Still she descended. Kurtís penis began to throb within his grasp. His grip tightened, resisting the pulses of arousal as Lennaís hot tongue lathered its way down his stomach. Now her gagged mouth hovered over his groin. She was stretched out between his thigh and the edge of the mattress, teetering precariously because of her bound hands. Her face rose with a hint of wilful impudence, waves of hair cascading to either side. This was a slaveís moment of power. Obedience or resistance, submission or defiance; the ultimate choice in these finely-balanced moments would always fall to the slaves, the path they chose forever dictating the nature of their service to their masters. With brazen eyes locked unwaveringly on his, Lennaís tongue flicked against Kurtís shaft, leisurely circling below the rim. Only when she judged the time right did her soft lips reach forward and brush delicately, almost lovingly, against the head of the barbarianís swollen organ.

"Enough!" Kurt barely managed to rasp the command, shoving the girl away and staggering to his feet. By the gods, the things this slave could do to him! How easy it would be to spend the day savouring her touch, but such a luxury must sadly be denied. He still had much work to do. The thief couldnít afford distractions today, no matter how enjoyable they might be. Pacing the room with remarkable self-control, he waited for his yearning cock to soften. When his lusts had subsided, he lifted the girl from the bed, untied her bonds and slipped a grubby coin into her palm, "Go on with you. Back to your other duties. Tell the landlord that he runs a fine establishment."

Lenna stopped by the doorway, glancing back shyly as Kurt donned his clothing, "My lord? Will you be dining here tonight? It would be my pleasure to bring you further pleasure."

The barbarian continued to dress, grinning at the invitationís lack of subtlety, "Aye, girl, maybe I will at that. Maybe I will."

* * *

It had turned out to be a very profitable day. Kurt pushed his way past a crowd of noisy street traders. Even at this late hour, with the sun well below the horizon and the conjoined moons visible in the darkening sky, Kal Nuran was still a throng of bustling activity. The painted stalls of craftsmen and farmers had vanished, but only to be replaced by vendors hawking greasy food from the back of carts and scantily-clad slaves luring passersby with their carnal temptations.

The barbarian had been engaged in business of a very different sort. He ignored the various offers shouted his way and reflected on his earlier appointment. It was no secret that Senator Xinthar had enemies. The trick was knowing which could be trusted enough to cultivate as useful allies. An ill-tempered contract dispute had led to a public falling-out between the senator and a talented architect. The affair had ruined the manís reputation and finances, sowing the seeds for a vengeful grudge. A friend of a friend had set up a backalley meeting where, after a suitable payment changed hands, the bitter architect had supplied Kurt with plans to the senatorís villa. From Kurtís point of view it was money well spent. The plans were intricately detailed, depicting every corridor, every secret passage and, most vitally, meticulous notes describing every lock and trap guarding Xintharís fabulous treasures. The thiefís preparations were almost complete. Soon he would be ready to strike.

Kurt blinked and looked about, suddenly aware of his surroundings. While his mind had been reviewing his accomplishments, his feet had unconsciously carried him back to the tavern where the day had begun. He shouldnít have been surprised. Scarcely an hour had gone by when his thoughts hadnít drifted to the pretty slave girl and the morningís unfulfilled promise. He debated the merits of heading inside. It wasnít wise to form routines when your livelihood fell on the wrong side of the law. Too many evenings had been spent in this place while he familiarised himself with his target. The barbarian shrugged and went in anyway. Since heíd come this far, it would be a shame to pass on the opportunity of a further night with that beguiling little wench.

The common area was already packed when he entered. Platters of meat were being carried from the kitchen, drinks being poured from wooden casks and a minstrel playing songs from a stool near the bar. Dusty travellers and thirsty locals gathered in boisterous huddles. There was only one free space in the room, a small table tucked away in a cramped and gloomy corner. Kurt shoved a path through, the sight of his bulging muscles and notched sword soon clearing those who were slow to step aside. He wedged his bulky frame into the narrow gap between the table and a solid pillar, searching the crowd for his favourite slave.

It was a different girl who appeared at his side, a curvy redhead in a flimsy dress that revealed much more than it hid. She stood with lowered eyes and hands clasped daintily at her back, "Welcome, my lord. My pleasure is to bring you pleasure. How may I serve your needs?"

A small scowl showed Kurtís disappointment, "Where is the slave called Lenna? I had hoped that she would attend me."

"Forgive me, my lord, but Lennaís duties are at another table. Let me take her place. Grant me a chance and Iíll do my best to satisfy your wishes."

His scowl deepened, but the barbarian took a moment to inspect the girl. She was attractive enough in her way. Perhaps fuller in the breast than he normally preferred, but the high hemline suited her shapely legs and the bronze tint of her collar had obviously been chosen to complement her hairís vibrant sheen. He supposed that she would have to do, "Very well. Bring me ale, bread and something warm to eat."

He returned his focus to the rest of the room while the girl ran off to fetch his meal. The staff were clearly overwhelmed, struggling to cope with the influx of customers. The landlord was trapped behind his bar, translating the clamour of garbled words spoken by a group of foreign merchants. Slaves hurried back and forth with burdened trays, carefully threading their way between tables. A sweep of black hair caught Kurtís attention. It was Lenna. She was bringing food to a motley band of warriors who sat near the hearth. They were southern mercenaries to judge by their armour, a disreputable bunch known to switch loyalties and abandon former allies if the tide of battle swung against them.

Their commander, a tattooed brute with golden earrings, grabbed Lennaís arm as she passed by. He hauled her onto his lap and began to grope her slender body, pawing breasts and thighs with careless disregard of her squirming protests. The man pressed his bearded jaw against the girlís ear and muttered unpleasant words that made her cringe and turn away. The mercenary only laughed and tore at her skimpy top, exposing the pale flesh of her trembling bosom. He threw the small garment into the fire and made some crude comment to his men, causing them to join his vulgar laughter.

Across the room, Kurtís hands clenched into fists as he experienced a spasm of jealous anger. He tutted in disgust at his reaction, cursing the foolish betrayal of emotion and willing himself to composure. He was behaving like a besotted idiot. The girl was a tavern whore. She had probably been with a hundred other men and would probably be with a hundred more. It was no concern of his how these soldiers chose to entertain themselves. He would be better off ignoring them and concentrating on his own affairs. The redhead was returning with his food. He waited as she set down the plate and tankard then ordered her to sit within his embrace. While he chewed on bread and meat, she nestled against his shoulder, massaging the taut sinews at his neck.

Such tender ministrations were meant to distract, but time and again his stare wandered back to Lenna. She was being passed around like a cheap toy. Each warrior sampled a different aspect of her unresisting body, kissing her lips, licking her throat or pinching a nipple, before thrusting her to a comrade with a parting cuff to the head or rough smack across the rear. The girl was becoming increasingly distressed by this flurry of abusive treatment. She was left unsteady and disoriented by each new shove, stumbling helplessly from one coarse assault to the next. When the leader snatched her about the waist, she could only sag weakly in his grasp, feeling her naked breasts scrape against the sharp edges of his armoured mail. Smiling at her discomfort, the lout wrapped a long length of hair around his fist and used it to yank her head back, twisting and pulling until roots strained at the scalp and her frightened eyes began to water. His kiss was violent and unrelenting, crushing her lips and invading her mouth with a demanding tongue. When he had finally taken his fill he drew back his hand and slapped her, one stinging blow across each cheek. Lenna was left reeling, tears now streaming down her face. The soldiers did not care. An order for fresh drinks was barked, a muddy boot to the backside propelling the weeping slave towards the kitchen.

Kurtís temper had been smouldering as he watched the scene unfold. Every fibre of his being spurred him to take action, to claim this female for himself and punish those who harmed her. It took tremendous effort for him to remain seated, to remember that she was not his property and that he had no right to interfere. The attentive redhead sensed his turbulent mood and was quick to guess its cause. She ran soothing fingers along his tensed jawline, her calming voice requesting peace, "It is nothing, my lord. We slaves are used to such harsh sport. No lasting hurt is done. See? No one else is troubled. Put her from your mind and give yourself to me."

It was true. A few patrons turned their heads at the mercenariesí rowdy behaviour, but most paid no heed and none seemed inclined to take offence.

But Lennaís torment was far from over. As she scurried to refill tankards from a brimming pitcher of ale, one of the younger fighters winked at his mates and stuck a deliberate leg across the girlís path. With unshed tears still clouding her vision, the wretched slave had no hope of avoiding the obstacle. She tripped with a terrified shriek and crashed into the table, the jolt knocking the heavy pitcher from her hands. Frothy liquid spilled out, splashing forward to completely drench the shocked commander.

The world seemed to slow as the brute rose ominously to his feet, dripping sticky foam and quivering in indignant rage. His menís raucous laughter fell abruptly silent, each belatedly realising that their jest had gone awry. Livid splotches coloured the officerís face. He hoisted Lenna by the collar and roared his fury, flecks of spit flying from his mouth, "You stupid slut! Look what you have done! By the Hunter, you will pay for this. Men, hold this miserable bitch down. She needs to be taught a painful lesson."

"No, my lord! Please!" Lenna begged piteously, her eyes wide with fear, "It was an accident. Please, have mercy!"

Her cries went unheard. One of the mercenaries seized her arms and dragged her across the tableís filthy surface. He flipped her onto her stomach and pulled her arms above her head, swiftly binding her wrists with a coil of braided rope. A pair took hold of her thrashing legs. Their superior strength easily quelled her frantic kicks. The girlís body was drawn flat, unable to escape or even shield itself from what was sure to come.

The tattooed leader had removed the studded belt worn around his gut. He ran the leather strap through his hand, pausing to admire each of the small protrusions. His glared bored into Lennaís unprotected back, "Nobody makes a fool out of me. This is going to hurt, but maybe when Iím done youíll have learned some proper respect."

The belt landed with a loud crack, a well-placed strike delivered with sadistic glee. Again the lash came down, raising ugly welts where metallic studs bit into soft flesh. Lenna screamed, desperately shaking her head and fighting to break loose. Her sobbing pleas had become incoherent, the wordless moans winning no sympathy. The mercenaries tightened their savage grasp. Calloused hands pulled on slender limbs, stretching them out to limit her agonised writhing. Two more strokes rained in quick succession, another and then another, leaving blazing lines that burned like fire across the slave girlís back.

"I can keep this up all night, bitch." The commander was panting slightly from mixed exertion and excitement. "Iím going to whip you raw and then my men are going to fuck you until morning."

The belt was raised aloft, but the next blow never fell. Kurtís tolerance had snapped. He surged across the room with a thunderous bellow, leaving chairs and startled customers scattered in his wake. A wild haymaker sent the mercenary leader sprawling to the floor. Two quick punches dispatched those restraining Lennaís legs. The others were less slow to react. One lowered his head and charged, the tackle catching Kurt below the ribs. The barbarian grunted with the impact, but braced his feet and slammed down with doubled fists. His foe went slack and crumpled to the ground. That left one last opponent. The man drew a knife and slashed in a clumsy arc. A snarl of disdain sounded as Kurt evaded the blade, grabbed the warriorís wrist and applied force until tiny bones began to break. The knife fell to the floor with a clatter of surrender.

It was over as quickly as that. The entire tavern gaped in awe. One unarmed man had defeated five seasoned mercenaries in a mere handful of seconds. Their astonished stares meant nothing to Kurt. Lenna still lay prostrate on the table. She shivered miserably, crying to herself and showing no awareness of what had happened. He bent and scooped her up, absently noting how little she weighed. She gave a pathetic little whimper when he lifted her, but otherwise stayed just as limp and unresponsive, bound wrists curled protectively against her breasts. Nobody spoke a word as he strode towards the stairs. The landlord cleared his throat as though to intervene, but one look at the barbarianís stern expression and he wisely reconsidered. When he had passed beyond their sight, ascending the stairs with the slave girl in his arms, a buzz of fevered conversation finally rippled though the room. Tales of the nightís events were sure to spread, no doubt embellished and exaggerated with each new telling.

* * *

Lenna still showed no sign of movement when Kurt carefully placed her on a guest room bed. Her vacant eyes were fixed straight ahead, swollen with tears and haunted by her ordeal. He sat quietly by her side and stroked her hair, murmuring softly, pacifying her fears as he would a nervous animal.

"There, little one, itís over. Shush, itís all right. Come, let me take a look. Hmm? Thatís right, you donít need to be frightened of me."

He retrieved a clean cloth and small vial of oil from a pouch on his belt and began to dab at the dark lines which slashed across her back. Special care was paid to lesions left where the studded belt had done its worst. Lenna flinched as the salve was applied. Her brow furrowed with renewed distress, but she made no attempt to pull away, lying docile and letting him complete his patient ministration.

"Good girl. I know it stings, but itís better this way. Thereíll be no scars and your pain will quickly fade."

The barbarian put aside the cloth and resumed his slow petting. Strong hands displayed surprising tenderness as they caressed her trembling arms. Tension gradually eased from the girlís hunched muscles. Anxiety and strain abated, releasing their hold on her body as memory of her fear began to dwindle. She could feel the rough hands on her skin, but this contact was welcomed. This man had protected her. He had shown her kindness and compassion. She didnít even know his name, but something inside her knew that she would be safe as long as he was near. Lying back with a languid sigh of comfort, she allowed herself to melt beneath his restful touch.

Kurt watched the slaveís slow recovery. The heat of his anger subsided as he meditated on her need. Her young body was so sweet, so easy to manipulate. Her physical wounds would already be starting to numb. It seemed that her spirit was also on the mend. The moans she gave now were not ones of pain, but evidence of a growing need. He ran a finger along the hollow of her throat then up and across her lips. Sure enough, the soft mouth opened to receive him, the reaction as involuntary as it was provocative. She couldnít help herself. She was a slave, a beautiful pleasure slave whose body was bred for a single purpose.

"Thatís better, isnít it?" Kurt wasnít even sure if she was listening, but maintained his quiet tone, "Relax, little one. Let go of your hurt and just relax."

While one hand remained at her arm, the other slipped down and skimmed across her breasts. It was the barest contact, a delicate brush of fingertips along their lovely swell. Lenna sucked in a startled breath. For a moment it seemed that he had gone too far, that terror would return and she would tense in skittish resistance. But instead her eyelids fluttered, the lovely plaything yielding to her masterís will. Her body curved up to meet his hand, pushing out her chest to encourage further exploration, tiny nipples tightening with desire. Kurt was happy to oblige. He cupped one small tit and gave a gentle squeeze. His thumb grazed the crinkled areola, triggering another shuddering gasp. Lenna bit down on her lower lip. Her eyes were closed, brows forming a high arch of longing, the tranquil expression a stark contrast to her prior fear.

"Please ... my lord," Her tentative words were almost inaudible between the passionate sighs, "Please ... let ... let me have more."

Bound hands latched onto his, guiding him to the area of her greatest need. She pressed his fingers inside her thong undergarment, parting her legs to allow him in. Kurt pushed through the tuft of curls, finding her opening already swollen and wet. His probing finger dipped inside her shallow groove, bathing in the channel of warm juices. He felt hungry muscles contract, clamping down, trying to draw him deeper. But he refused their beckoning call, withdrawing the now slick digit and focusing his efforts on the sensitive folds around her entrance. He teased at the edges, stroking and rubbing, constantly hinting at more but never quite delivering.

"More, master ... please ... please."

The cries were almost pitiful. She was lost in the ache of her hunger, ardent lust controlling her thrusting motions. Kurt pushed down on her breasts so that she was pinned against the bed. He continued his torturous stimulation, fondling her nipples with one hand while he orbited tantalizingly close to her clit with the other. He was determined to hold back her reward, drawing out her blissful quest for climax for as long as possible. But it didnít matter. The prolonged build-up was exactly what Lenna had needed. Her pressure mounted, rising higher and higher until her damís critical breaking-point was breached. She convulsed against his palm in a succession of hard lunges, grinding her pelvis and twisting into the bedsheets. Her pent-up energies drained in an fervent outpouring of breathless ecstasy.

"Oh, thank-you, my lord, thank-you." Though her wrists were tied, her hands reached up to clasp his stubbled face, "I donít deserve such kindness. Thank-you."

The grateful words faded to a silent whisper as fatigue took its inevitable toll. With the serenity of her fulfilment smoothing tear-stained features, Lenna slumped back and sank her head into the pillow. Kurt shook his head, amazed at the resilience of one who could endure so much yet still attain Seleahís gift of sexual release. He settled down beside her, troubled by one lingering worry. She was safe tonight, but who would watch over this fragile slave when he was gone?

Chapter Three

Gold glittered under the light of Kurtís flickering torch. It seemed that the stone floor and every available surface of the chamber before him had been buried under an avalanche of gleaming coins, polished jewels and sparkling gems. Rich tapestries hung from the walls, eastern silk that flowed like water and glowed with a mysterious luminescence of its own. Ivory statues were arrayed on marble pedestals, depicting fearsome beasts from Zantraís inner jungles, tusks and claws as long as a manís arm, hides and furs skinned from each monsterís awesome carcass. The furthest corners held two enormous mirrors, their flawless glass reflecting the light and bouncing back images that seemed to multiple the vast piles of accumulated treasures a hundredfold and more.

Kurt could scarcely believe that he had reached this point with so little difficulty. He stood on the threshold of Senator Xintharís vault. He had made it over the wall, evaded dogs and guards, slipped across the villa gardens and now he was here, mere yards from his objective. There was one final obstacle to overcome and then Kurt, barbaric horseman of the northern steppes, would become the most wealthy and most famous thief that the First Lands had ever known.

He repositioned his torch to better examine the heavy portcullis which blocked the solitary entrance to the vault. The iron bars were several inches thick, penetrating deep into the floor and ceiling. They could not be prised open nor dented by even the strongest blade. The portal would only rise with the simultaneous release of padlocks set ten feet apart at opposite corners of the gateís solid frame. The locks were expertly crafted, but Kurt was skilled and had come equipped. Slim metal needles were inserted where keys should have been used. He worked patiently at first one lock and then the other, prodding at the inner mechanisms, listening for telltale clicks until each tumbler was on the verge of release. The next step required careful timing and a steady hand. The thief took three cunningly designed rods and snapped them together to form a single long pole, the ends of which stretched out to either side. Drilled holes allowed the pole to slip neatly over the picks which still protruded from the locks. A deft twist triggered both catches. The twin padlocks sprang open and the great portcullis rose smoothly on its well-oiled tracks, only the faintest rumble sounding as hidden chains retracted.

Kurt nodded with proud satisfaction at his achievement, but didnít rush heedlessly forward. He had taken care of the door, but must still negotiate the deadly trap. Two traps actually. The section of slabbed floor in the midpoint of the entrance was obviously false, pivoted above a spike-filled pit. No adventurer who had come so far would be tricked by that primitive ruse. But the second trap, the true trap, would surprise those who thought to slink along the sides of the entrance. Poisoned darts were primed to fire when the weight of footsteps fell on those outer slabs. Fortunately Kurt had seen the architectural drawings which revealed the threat. Bypassing the danger was simply a matter of pressing on a certain panel before proceeding within. A counterweight would disable the contraption which launched the darts and thus one could enter safe from harm.

And that was it. Kurt crossed the threshold and stood within the vault. He had succeeded where lesser thieves had failed. He had outwitted the defences of Kal Nuranís most powerful man and could claim his choice of reward from all this wealth. Clearly he couldnít take it all, there was just too much and some objects were too big for one man to carry. But that was a trivial concern. The barbarian began sweeping handfuls of coins and jewels into a large sack. These smaller items would be easier to sell and would still be more than sufficient for his dreams of a lavish lifestyle and pampered retirement. Maybe he would buy a palace in some distant kingdom, surrounding himself with dancing girls and a harem of wives. Or he could fund an army, gathering horses and loyal men to plunder even greater riches from the border trade routes. Maybe he should do both, sending out his hordes while he revelled in the spoils from the comfort of his stronghold.

Hefting the bulging sack over his shoulder, the barbarian hurried from the vault and back the way he had come. His spirits were soaring and adrenalin charged him with exhilaration, but he was still in the enemyís lair. This was not a time to linger. He retraced his steps through the lower levels, moving with swift efficiency despite his burden until he reached a narrow staircase. At the top he paused, kneeling in a shadowed alcove. The stairs opened onto a columned walkway which arched over the villa courtyard and connected with the outer walls. It was the most direct escape route, but also the most risky. The mansionís barracks opened onto the cobbled cloisters below and the walkway intersected the circuit of two sentry patrols. Vigilant and well-armed guards should be crawling all over the path ahead.

But not tonight. There was a reason that Kurt had chosen this night for his mission. It was the night of the Red Moon, the night when Branin and Seleah joined at the pinnacle of their intimate union, the power of their divine passions spilling into the mortal world. The courtyard was bathed in a crimson glow, a single red moon hanging where the two heavenly orbs had merged. Laughter drifted on the air, the sounds of drunken merry-making and erotic dalliance. Kurt edged forward and peered down, smiling at the scene below. The guards had been caught up in the Red Moonís sway, abandoning their duty in favour of more carnal pastimes.

Six men lounged around the courtyard, matched by an equal number of nubile slave girls. They were engaged in a game of Strangerís Touch. One lovely wench had been blindfolded and made to stand naked, tied with her hands behind her back. The other girls were gathered round, arranging themselves in a giggling circle. At the silent command of their masters, one of the seated girls would approach her unseeing sister, bestowing a long lingering kiss or a series of soft caresses. Should the bound slave fail to identify her gentle lover then she would find herself dragged over a masterís knee, spanked six times as a forfeit then returned to the centre of the ring for the game to continue. If she guessed wisely then the two would switch places, the one who had been named shrieking with delight as she was briskly stripped, bound, blindfolded and thrust into the circle. It was a popular game, one which built bonds of companionship between the slaves while allowing them to impress the watching masters by showing-off their charms and talents of arousal.

Kurt left the group to their entertainment, wishing them much joy. He crept across the arched walkway, keeping low and pressed deep into the shadows. At the opposite side he stopped again, safely hidden below the high crenulations of the perimeter wall. The streets of Kal Nuran lay twelve feet beneath the ledge. Taking care to remain unseen and unheard, Kurt unwound the stout rope wrapped around his waist. He secured the end to an iron fixture then swung over the parapet, agile strength making easy work of the short descent. Furtive glances confirmed that the street was empty. No one had seen his exit and no alarm had been raised from within. He had done it! He had made it out with his stolen prize!

Now the thief could begin to relax. A horse was already saddled, waiting in the stables of the nearby tavern. For once there was no activity on the cityís deserted streets. Like Xintharís guards, the rest of the populous would be celebrating the Red Moonís heady influence. Husbands and wives would be renewing vows of love. Seleahís temple priests would be conducting sacred rites of dedication. Brothel doors would be thrown wide, all welcome to feast in their night-long orgies of debauchery.

Kurt entered the stables and loaded the saddle bags with his precious loot. As he climbed onto his mount, he glanced back to the tavern. The common room and kitchens were swathed in darkness, the only visible lights burning behind curtained upper windows. Lenna was in there. If he rode off now he would never see her again, never hold her tiny body or enjoy the delights of her clever tongue. He would miss her. It would be hard to find a slave who could take her place. He doubted that he would ever find a girl quite so perfect as his fragile little Lenna.

The barbarian grinned and leapt from his horse. He was the First Landsí greatest thief. Why should he settle for second best when he could steal anything his heart desired? Maybe he was still flushed with the euphoria of his success or maybe his judgement was being clouded by the Red Moonís power. Whatever the reason, his mind was resolved. Lenna would be his!

The latch on the rear door was no hindrance after Kurtís earlier exploits. He sneaked through the kitchen to the large windowless room above the cellars. This is where the slaves were housed when not serving customers. A thin sliver of ruby moonlight followed him through the door, its weak radiance sparing the need for torch or candle. Only five of the twelve crude pallets were occupied, the other girls would be found upstairs in the company of some lucky guest. Lennaís tender grace had not been called upon. She was among those who slumbered below a threadbare blanket. She lay curled on her side with head cushioned on her folded arms. A heavy chain was fastened to her collar, its iron links anchored to a sturdy post at the centre of the room.

Hanging from a nail behind the door was a small key. Kurt took it along with some handy objects he spied on a high wooden shelf. He crept slowly across the room, but came to an abrupt halt, freezing at the loud creak of an uneven floorboard. The girl lying closest to the door had stirred at the noise. She muttered something in her sleep, rolled over but soon grew still again. The barbarian remained motionless, waiting patiently for the steady rhythm of her breathing to resume before continuing cautiously on his way. When he arrived at Lennaís side he knelt and laid out the items collected at the door; the key to the chain, thin leather thongs, a length of rope and a narrow strap fitted with a buckle and threaded through a stuffed leather pouch. Lenna slept soundly, oblivious to his proximity and her role in his intentions.

He took the key first, fitting it into the rusted lock which tethered the iron chain to the welded ring at the front of Lennaís collar. The lock was released and removed from the metal links, the chain then pushed aside with a quiet clink. Next he peeled back the blanket and crossed her slender legs. One comely ankle was placed over the other and the pair lashed together with six tight turns of the leather thong. The girl slept in the nude. Soft light silhouetted the lines from her bound ankles, rising over calves and thighs to the adorable peaks of her smackable bottom. Kurt heard himself give a deep growl of desire, imagining all the rude and wonderful things he could do to that bottom once he had this slave alone and reserved for his exclusive use.

It took surpassing dexterity to manoeuvre Lennaís arms from below her tousled head without disturbing her dreaming repose. He eased them down until they rested in the small of her back. The second thong secured them there, the leather looped about her wrists, its long ends passed around her waist then the whole arrangement tied above her hands with firm unslippable knots. Rolling the trussed girl onto her back, Kurt gripped the sides of her mouth with one hand and reached for the stuffed pouch with the other. Her sleep would not survive the next operation. The hand which held her jaw shook insistently until her eyes shot open. Waking to discover herself in virtual darkness, unexpectedly restrained and prone before an unknown male, Lennaís first reaction was one of panic, jerking against her bonds and opening her mouth to scream. Kurtís movements were quicker. Before her scream could form, he crammed the pouch between her open lips. Its padded bulk was compressed between her teeth, filling her mouth, trapping her tongue and muffling her useless cries. When the attached strap was buckled at her nape, below the flowing tangle of her hair, the girl was rendered into utter silence.

"Easy, Lenna. Itís me. Iím taking you away from here. Youíre going to serve as my personal pleasure slave."

Kurtís words were meant to reassure, but though she now recognised him Lenna signalled her opposition to his plan. She shook her head in frantic objection, imploring him with muffled grunts and wide eyes filled with fear. Kurt was surprised. Was she so afraid of him or so happy with her current servitude? Or was it that she knew the penalty for the kidnap of a slave and feared the sentence they both would face should his crime be caught? In either case, the issue was not one that Kurt was willing to debate. He wanted this girl and he was going to have her.

Suddenly a tumult of clanging bells and urgent shouts shattered the night. They came from across the street, from Senator Xintharís villa. Kurt swore, the theft had been discovered. The guards were not so lax in their duties after all. There was no time to waste. Already he could hear movement from the floor above, the other slaves around him were starting to wake and soon the streets would swarm with citizens and soldiers responding to the cacophonous alarm.

Snatching up the discarded blanket, he threw it over Lennaís head. The strand of rope was used to tie her inside, pinning her arms against her spine with a wide band wrapped over the woollen cocoon below the level of her breasts. The girl beside them sat up, witnessed the apparent abduction and began to squeal. Her cries spread to the others, the distressed slaves cowering at the end of their chains, shielding their nakedness and begging to be spared from Lennaís fate. Kurt ignored their foolish howls, heaving Lenna over his shoulder and barging through the door.

One bleary-eyed guest was blocking the way outside, confused by all the commotion. The barbarian knocked the man aside with a careless shove and hurried to the stables. He flung his squirming package over the saddleís pommel and vaulted up behind her. Digging with his heels, he spurred the horse to action. They careered from the stable yard and out into the streets. The villaís bell tower continued to ring. The guards were dashing from the double gates and fanning out in a disorganised search for signs of their unknown thieves. The sight of a muscled barbarian astride a loaded horse did not escape their notice.

"Hey, you there! Stop where you are. By the authority of Senator Xinthar, I command you to halt and be searched."

Clearly Kurt wasnít about to comply with that request. He tugged on the reins, but the path ahead was blocked by Xintharís men-at-arms. Hooves sparked as he yanked harder at the bit, the horse rearing on hind legs, forced to turn in tight quarters to face the opposite direction. More angry shouts came from behind, but Kurt set off at a charge. Lennaís rump jiggled in front him, her covered head bouncing on one side of the horse, the heavy sack of jewels bouncing on the other. He had to get away before the outcry reached Kal Nuranís gates. There would be no prospect of escape if mighty oaken timbers were lowered to bar the gates and seal him in.

A call from the left drew Kurtís attention. The senatorís men had been left far behind, but now others had joined the chase. Two mounted soldiers rode towards him from the city fort. He kicked his horseís flank, but it had nothing else to give. Between Lennaís writhing at its withers and the uncomfortable drag of extra baggage, the creature was doing well to remain upright at its current gallop.

Kurt spanked his captured slave sharply across each rear cheek, "Be still, girl. Stop struggling or youíll have us off and break both our necks."

The stern admonition did its job, but even with her lying as placid and obedient as possible their pace did not increase. A short javelin sailed dangerously close to Kurtís head. The two riders were gaining ground with every second. They were lightly armoured and riding horses raised for speed. He could never outrun them, not with his own mount so heavily weighed down. Kurt drew his dagger. It was regrettable, but something would have to be sacrificed.

The temple to Seleah was just ahead. Priests and midnight worshippers had gathered on the steps, drawn by curiosity at the ruckus hurtling down their street. It was a definite gamble, but Kurt knew he had one last chance.

"For Selah!" he cried, "For Branin! Let all good people share in the Red Moonís bounty."

He steered towards the temple and plunged his knife into the sack containing his hard won treasure. Coins and gems spilled from the rent as he rode past, spraying out in a fountain of glorious wealth. The people stared in bewilderment, but not for long. A jubilant cheer went up and they flooded down the steps, crowding the street in an eager rush for the strewn riches. Moments later the soldiers rounded the bend. One had time to skid to a standstill, but the other fellow smashed into the scavenging mob, horse, rider and bystanders going down in a dreadful crush.

His pursuers had been lost. The road ahead was clear. The lightened mount had even found fresh wind. With only a few hundred yards to the open gates, Kurt gave the horse free head and patted his hand on Lennaís thigh. It looked like they would make it. He may have lost his original plunder, but the barbarian thief had no complaints. He had come away from Kal Nuran with a prize of much greater value.

Epilogue

Lenna lay on her blanket in the mouth of a dirty cave high in the rocky foothills south of Kal Nuran. The same leather thongs which bound her hands above her buttocks were now linked to her crossed ankles, leaving the girl folded in a tidy heap between her masterís legs.

"Their scouts have taken our false trail. I wonder how far north theyíll go before they realise their mistake." Kurt was reclined against the stony wall, keeping a wary watch on the fertile plains below. He turned his gaze to Lenna, grabbing a hank of hair and craning her neck so she could meet his eyes, "Well, my little slave, youíve cost me a pretty penny. I hope youíre ready to earn your keep."

The stuffed pouch still gagged her mouth, but her earnest nod was clear in its acceptance. She felt no sorrow at her change in circumstance. A life as stolen property, constantly avoiding the authorities was not one she would have chosen. But it was not her choice to make. She only knew that she would gladly abide by every decision of this brave and handsome man, serving him with loving zeal for as long as he chose to keep her.

Kurt dragged her supple body towards him, lifting her until her splayed thighs rested on his crotch. The position forced her to kneel in a vertical hogtie, her back bowed by the pull of wrists and ankles, her neck bent back to stare at the rocky overhang. His fingers slipped between her nether lips, coaxing her to fuller openness, her gagged breaths stoking the fires of his own arousal. Fumbling at his breeches, he freed his stiff and burning cock, pushing inside and clasping her against his chest. He buried his face in her hair, rubbing her breasts against his torso and shoving himself deeper and deeper into her warm and welcoming recess.

Oh yes, he had definitely made the right decision. He would want for nothing with this slave to share his nights. As for the lost fortune scattered on the temple steps? They said the southern deserts hid cities paved with gold. Perhaps it was time to start anew in the land of sand and genies.

The End...for now.