The Road Not Taken – Yuri Webnovel Chapter 0 Part II

Artumes chuckled, watching her come up for air and stumble against the bank, swimming to find purchase. The chain tinkled as the current pulled it, but she did not give it time to run out of length as she jumped down onto the river.

“So this is the kind of manners I can expect from the dogs of the coast,” the redhead coughed and sputtered, holding herself up against the muddy bank. 

“Why are you coming out? Didn’t you want to take a bath?” Artumes asked, starting to strip down, removing her coat and her boots. She pulled off her belts and her sack, unhooked Moonbite from her side and gave it a swing, pointing the sharp head of her battle axe at the woman, “I don’t want to take a look at your soggy body. Get back in.”

The Marrower’s silver eyes flashed with anger and wounded pride – but she did as she was told, sliding back beneath the current. 

“It’s freezing.”

“It would be worse if you keep your shoulders out of the water,” Artumes explained, pulling down her trousers and her undergarments. The woman’s grey gaze followed her smooth skin, the many paler lines of scars left over from years of training and campaigning out in the fields.

She did not feel any emotion out of it, not even a bit of satisfaction coiling in her chest like a satisfied dragon.

She reached the current, which flew around her dark legs without making her even stammer, and slowly lowered herself onto it, even though she did keep half her torso over the line of water, Moonbite glistening cold and white in her right hand and her left one holding a pouch – and the other end of the chain. 

“Take this,” she tossed the pouch at her. The redhead, her hair now a curtain flowing down to her shoulders and her – quite large, Artumes had to admit – breasts, pulled out a thin stick of soap, gave it a sniff and her lip creased in disgust. 

“What’s this made of?”

“Your Majesty would rather not know,” Artumes scoffed. “Now get to it.”

She nodded, pulling off her clothes.

“I’ll be keeping those.”

She rolled her eyes, but did as she was told, handing them her soggy vestment.

“When we get past the Burning River,” she said starting to smear the soap over her pale skin, “You do understand our agreement will come to a close, do you? And the King will find the information I have for him so much more useful than the wellbeing of an unkempt, unkind border guard such as you.”

“The King’s thought is his own,” Artumes replied, tilting her head. “It would do good to you not to assume the extent of his patience. Or mine.”

She did not have any reply to that, and Artumes felt the dragon that had settled in her stomach spew a few ribbons of warm smoke, quite pleased at the fact she had managed to make her prisoner shut her mouth for once. She watched her as the Marrower proceeded to wash herself, passing the soap all over her body.

Her skin had always looked pale, but when she had first caught her in the village, the woman had displayed an almost alabaster-like complexion, which was now giving way to a healthier shade. Perhaps she was one who did not come out of often from her ironclad tower, running through lamp-light corridors, busy with the management of slave-mills or perhaps some of other dark matter of Tuonela. 

The thick envelope of notes she carried, the real reason Artumes had yet to kill her, seemed to give more credibility to such a background. For a Marrower, she also looked quite well-kept, without the feverish look in her eyes.

As she watched her take care of her body, not at all interested in anything other than to gain more information over her enemy, she noticed the sets of iron studs and piercings running down her skin.

“Turn around and stand out of the water for a moment.”

The woman hesitated – licked her lips as if to try and say something, but a flick of her right wrist was more than enough to make her comply. As she came out of the river’s current, Artumes followed her gaze running from her thin shoulders to her svelte arms to her narrow waist and the gentle dips above her round buttocks.

The dragon in her stomach rasped against the walls and Artumes had to steel herself a little, letting her gaze linger for a bit over the woman’s slender nape and her rounded shoulders… perhaps a tad too long. 

She was Anthilian, and at the service of the King. Even if the woman standing in front of her was a loathed Marrower, it would not do to stoop to her level, have her display her nakedness like that just for her pleasure. Like she would most likely with her pick of servants from the slave-mills in cursed Tuonela. 

But her eyes did not see just pale smooth skin. Each of her vertebrae stuck out of her flesh with a cruel iron stud piercing through it. They ran in a bitter chain from her neck to her small of her back. She had seen similar implants before, though they usually held strips of cured skin with bloodied curses written on them. The usual Marrower fare.

“You can resume,” she stated. 

“I was almost finished anyway,” the Marrower explained, going back to the water with a faint red sheen over her cheeks. 

Artumes did not like it. It made her seem perhaps a tad too human, a young woman of her own age with sparkling grey eyes and a desire for repentance before the King. 

She sighed. What a compelling delusion that would be. 

And what a mortal mistake.

The redhead washed her hair last and then she lay in the river in front of her. She tossed her the soap and it was Artumes’ turn to use it. Unlike her, she did not wash all over, for what was the point?

She might enjoy feeling precious with a drop of perfume behind her ears and a cobalt robe and a silver sash during the festivities in the capital, as she watched the great spectacles of light going off over the mirror surface of the Black Lake, but they were hundreds of miles away from the comforts of stone walls and braziers and perfume and civilization. 

So she just washed the dirtiest areas, never taking her eyes off the Marrower, who did not shy away either, even though her cheeks did keep their flush. 

And perhaps a tiny, god-forbidden part of her heart felt a tiny tug of pride at that. 

Artumes did not consider herself the most beautiful woman: she was tall, that was a given, but her features were perhaps a tad too round, her skin did not possess that amber sheen of a trueblood Anthilian, and her eyes were a mere aqua and not a clear, deep blue. At least her hair, kept only as long as her nape, were black as jet. Surely she could not hope to be called a model of beauty, not even amongst the meddling races as those the Marrower belonged to.

But then she saw the redhead’s grey eyes move to her left arm, to the eleven silver stars tattooed over her forearm.

Artumes grinned and scooped up some water to clean her hair with, enjoying the doubt in her captive’s gaze. 

“Exactly what you think,” she stated. “I was looking forward to adding your head to the count, but we still have a long way ahead of us. I might keep my hands to myself if you manage too behave.”

And with those words, quite pleased with herself at the stunned look on the Marrower’s sickly pale face, Artumes poured more water on herself, thinking about how this whole matter began.

As with so many others concerning Marrow’s and her line of duty, it began with blood.

Author’s Notes: 50 subscribers! Thank you so much!

Also, I seem to have found a title for the story. I am thinking about adding a title picture, but still nee to wrack my brain a little to get something that might satisfy me.

In the meantime, it has been more than 9 months since I have begun writing and publishing 1000 words (or more) each day. I hope I can manage one year, and then I will see where to go from there.

Thanks for reading.


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