Amestris kicked out, failing to connect solidly, but landing a glancing blow that was close enough to her target to cause the man who sought to seize her to recoil and miss his catch. She pulled back hastily, spun on her heel, and sprinted away. The two would-be rapists gave chase. The princess was growing tired, for she had ran far already this night, and she had also driven the breath from her body in a fall. Fear lent her wings, however, and she stayed ahead of her pursuers until she reached the street with its torches and passers-by.
Even as Amestris emerged into the street one of the footpads caught up with her and seized her by the arm. “Let go of me!” she cried.
“We have you now, girl,” the man growled.
“Let her go,” a man in the garb of a laborer spoke up. His swarthy skin and black beard showed that he was of Shemitish blood. He carried a spade, and he raised it as if to strike. Her assailant hesitated but did not release his grip. His companion, the knife-wielder, approached with his weapon poised.
“It is the princess!” another passer-by exclaimed. He pulled a short, curved, blade from his belt. “Get your hands off her, villain.”
The footpad let go of her arm and backed away. His accomplice retreated into the alleyway. The one who had caught Amestris paused for only a moment before following his example.
“Are you all right, Princess?” asked the laborer.
Amestris smiled at him. “I am, thanks to you, and to you,” she said. “I have no gold upon me to reward you, although you amply deserve it.”
“It is enough to have aided you, Princess,” said the laborer.
“I must reach the Temple of Ishtar,” Amestris said. “Will you escort me there?”
“Of course, Highness,” the blade-wielder assured her.
Amestris heaved a sigh as relief swept through her. It was short-lived.
“There she is,” a voice cried. “Seize her!” A patrol of ten guardsmen jogged down the street in her direction.
The laborer glanced that way, grimaced, and turned back to Amestris. “They want you? I cannot fight the guard. Run, Princess.”
“Perhaps we can hold them off for a short time,” said the man with the curved knife.
Amestris shook her head. “Do not risk yourselves for me. You have done enough. Thank you again.” She turned away and once again broke into a run. The guardsmen accelerated after her.- - - - -
Olaf put his hand against the face of the ape and pushed. He was able to keep its fangs from his throat but could not break free of its crushing grasp. He brought up his other hand, holding the shaft of the hammer, and rammed the butt into the creature’s side. It snarled and gave way slightly. Olaf struck again, driving the ape back half a pace, and was able to bring up the hammer to where he could take hold of the head with his other hand. He thrust forward with the shaft held between his hands, forcing it against the ape’s neck, and gained enough space to bring the hammer sharply back and drive it forward again in a hard jab to the face.
The beast’s grip on Olaf’s body slackened. He struck again, and again, and the creature recoiled a full stride. Its grip broke altogether. Olaf half-turned and then spun back, delivering a mighty jab with the head of the war-hammer, crashing the steel full into the ape’s jaw. It staggered and crashed into the wall of the tunnel.
The advantage was now firmly with Olaf. He could not gain room to swing the hammer in the confined space but was able to strike short blows with both head and butt. The ape backed away, its hideous countenance twisted in a silent snarl, and then it turned to flee. Olaf struck it upon the back of the neck and the beast fell on its face. Olaf grasped the hammer shaft with both hands and rammed it down upon the creature; once, twice, and then a third time. There was a horrid crunch of breaking bone and the ape lay still.
“By Odin,” said Olaf, panting, “that was a struggle. The beast was as strong as a bear.”
“A gray ape, I think,” said Conan. “I can barely make it out in this darkness but it growled not, nor did it roar, and only the gray apes are silent killers. You are mighty indeed, Olaf, for I have never before heard of a man slaying such an ape without a stout spear. I am in your debt. If it had come upon me, unarmed and in chains, it would have torn me to pieces and feasted upon my bones.”
“You saved me from a knife in the back,” said Olaf. “I am glad that I could repay you.” He made his way to where the barbarian was chained and began to strike at the shackles with his hammer. “Did the priest man trick you with poisoned wine?”
“He did,” said Conan. That it had in fact been drugged fruit juice was, in barbarian eyes, an extra embarrassment and Conan was in no hurry to set Olaf right on that minor detail. “I feared that you would fall into the same trap.”
“I nearly did,” Olaf confessed, as he snapped one shackle and moved on to the next. “I saw priest-men with swords as I was about to drink. This seemed strange, from what you had told me of the priests of this god Mitra, and it occurred to me that the chief priest was too eager for me to drink.”
“Did you slay the dog?” asked Conan.
“Not yet,” said Olaf. “We shall do that next.” He cracked another shackle and pried it open. “The king is dead,” he informed Conan. “I heard the bell that announced it, and then the priest-men with swords came in. I wonder what they intend.”
“Nothing good,” said Conan. “Princess Basina will be a worshipper of Mitra, of that I am sure, and perhaps these Mitrans plan evil against Amestris.”
“Or against the Temple of Ishtar,” said Olaf. “Priestess Damaspia is a fine woman, with a body full ripe for merry sport, and I would not wish harm to come to her. She warned me that she suspected that there is a plot against Amestris and hired us to protect the girl.” He broke the final shackle. “I fear that both of them may be in danger.”
“You are no doubt right,” said Conan, massaging his wrists and flexing his fingers. “There is little time to lose. I must find a sword, for the priest took mine, and then we shall rush to the rescue.”- - - - -
Amestris groaned in despair. She had evaded pursuit by patrols of guardsmen three times now, each time by a narrower margin, but eventually she had made her way to within sight of the Temple of Ishtar. It was surrounded and there was no way through. A dozen squads of guardsmen, some in the livery of the palace but most in the colors of Count Eligius, ringed the building. With them were two score robed priests of Mitra, bearing torches, and armed also with swords and spears most uncharacteristic for holy men of that church.
The princess withdrew into a quiet street, hoping that she would have no second encounter with rogues, and stopped to massage the calf of her right leg. It was tight and aching to the point where she feared that it would hamper her running. She needed a respite in which to recover her strength and make a plan. If she could not get through to the temple what could she do? No doubt there were many people in the city, mainly those of Shemitish stock and of the faith of Ishtar, who would shelter her, but she was loath to put them in danger.
The Shemites were in the majority in Yarmouk, although by a small margin, and made up most of the merchant class as well as much of the peasantry. The nobility and the soldiery, however, were almost entirely of Kothic blood. They had the training, the arms, and the armor. If Amestris had really intended to seize the throne she would have planned ahead and made sure that her supporters began by raiding the armories for weapons. Such had never been her intention, however, and she was still resolutely opposed to touching off a revolution or coup that could turn into a full-scale civil war.
Basina’s Kothic faction seemed to have no such scruples. The force surrounding the Temple of Ishtar seemed almost ready to launch a full-scale attack upon the building. Amestris feared that her aunt, who she loved as dearly as a mother, was also in dire peril. She could think of nothing that she could do to save her, alas, unless she could somehow locate the two mighty barbarian warriors whose services she had been foolish enough to turn down. With them at her side perhaps she could rescue Damaspia and they could flee the city together.
“I see her!” Once again a cry went up from a guardsman and once more Amestris was forced to run. This time her luck ran out. She ran around the corner and crashed straight into a mail-clad man-at-arms. His hands closed on her arms and she was caught. Before she could wriggle free another pair of hands fastened on her shoulders.
The squad of soldiers pursuing her rounded the corner and saw that the fugitive had been captured. “Good work,” a sergeant praised her captors. “You shall be well rewarded. The assassin is taken!”
“Assassin?” Amestris opened her eyes wide in surprise. “What do you mean? I am Princess Amestris, and no assassin.”
“Do not pretend innocence, Princess,” said the sergeant. “All know that you tried to murder our beloved Princess Basina so that you could take the throne that is rightfully hers. Only through the vigilance of Count Eligius was your evil scheme foiled.”
“These men are foolish as well as puny,” a new voice, one that Amestris recognized at once, broke in. “If Amestris had plotted to kill her sister then the skinny fair one would be dead and Count Eligius would be rotting in the dungeon where he belongs.”
“Olaf!” Amestris cried.
“Silence, dog of a…” the sergeant began, turning to face the newcomer. His voice trailed away as he saw the massive warrior who faced him.
“A giant!” exclaimed one of the soldiers.
Another fixed his eyes on the shorter, but still impressive, figure of a man who stood beside the huge Olaf. “It is Conan of Cimmeria,” the guardsman warned his companions. “I saw him fight once. Five men he slew in five heartbeats.”
“Set the princess free, soldier,” Conan ordered. “She is no assassin.” He raised a broadsword high; his own, retrieved from the chamber of High Priest Chilperic. “There is evil afoot in this city, it is true, but it is not Amestris who is behind it.”
“Then who?” asked the sergeant.
Before Conan could reply a trio of new soldiers reached the scene. “It is him!” cried one, a sergeant whose plumed helmet was dented and whose nose was flattened and crusted with dried blood. “The giant who attacked me! He is in league with the assassins! Take them!” He charged with drawn sword and the other soldiers joined him.
Conan’s sword crashed down. The blade sheared through a helm and dropped a man dead in his tracks. The barbarian pulled his sword free and lashed out again, ripping through a mail shirt and leaving another man dead, and then thrust out to slay a third.
Olaf whirled his hammer about his head and brought it down and across in a blow that smashed through a shield and caved in the bearer’s chest. He struck once more, cracking a skull, and then smote Sulptius the sergeant with a killing blow to the head.
Conan slew a fourth man, and a fifth. Olaf stunned a soldier with a glancing blow that was partially turned by the man’s helmet but then struck another so powerfully that his victim was lifted from his feet and hurled through the air.
A man who tried to get behind Olaf was run through by Conan. A moment later Olaf returned the favor by intercepting one who tried to dive at Conan’s legs from the rear. Olaf’s booted foot stopped the man as if he had struck a stone wall.
Then the remaining soldiers realized that the bodies on the ground now outnumbered those still standing and lost heart. They backed away, their swords and spears sagging in their hands, and appeared to be on the brink of turning to flee.
The one who had hold of Amestris brought up his sword and held it in front of her throat. “Lay down your arms and surrender, barbarians,” he commanded, “or I shall slay the princess.”
Neither of the two men made any move to obey. “That is a foolish threat, and pointless,” said Conan, “for if you were to carry it out we would strike you dead upon the instant.”
“Let her go,” Olaf ordered, “or I shall tear open your ribs and lay your lungs upon your back like the bloody wings of an eagle.”
Conan raised an eyebrow. “An impressive threat, Olaf, I must remember it.”
“It is one of the customs of my people,” said Olaf. “Now, puny soldier, release the beautiful princess, as I have told you, or feel pain beyond measure.”
The guardsman ran his tongue across his lips. “I shall take Princess Amestris back to the palace,” he said. “Queen Basina shall decide her fate. Do not try to stop me.”
Olaf growled and raised his hammer, taking a step forward, and the soldier recoiled.
At that moment Amestris acted. She thrust with both her hands against the guardsman’s sword arm, taking him by surprise and forcing the weapon outward and up away from her throat, and dropped down out of his grip upon her shoulder. Before he could seize her again Olaf’s hammer whistled through the air and struck the side of his head. The surviving guardsmen turned and fled into the darkness.
“By Odin,” said Olaf, “you are a fine woman indeed. No simpering damsel who waits to be rescued, but one who takes matters into her own hands.” He reached out a hand and helped Amestris to regain her feet.
“Thank you, Olaf, and Conan,” said Amestris. She flung her arms around Olaf and hugged him in a gesture of gratitude. Her breasts pressed against him, hardly above his waist, and she felt something stirring and pressing back against her lower down. “Oh Olaf,” she said, her eyes widening, “You are a virile warrior indeed. A very Bull of Heaven.”
Conan gave a snort of mirth. “It seems that three times shall not be the charm for me after all,” he said, “and it is you who shall win the prize this time.”
“We shall see,” said Olaf, “but there is yet more to be done before either of us may celebrate victory by indulging in merry sport.”
“Yes,” said Amestris, releasing Olaf and stepping back, “for the Temple of Ishtar is surrounded and my aunt Damaspia is in peril.”
“This would be the work of Chilperic the High Priest of Mitra,” Conan observed. “I have a bone to pick with that priest, and he shall find the picking painful indeed.” He saw new figures approaching, a dozen bearded men in common clothes, and challenged them. “Who are you, and what is your purpose here?”
“We are worshippers of Ishtar, Lord,” said one of the men. “The Mitrans threaten our temple, but we could do nothing without weapons.” He bent to retrieve a sword dropped by one of the guards felled by Conan and Olaf. “Now we have swords.” He bowed to Amestris. “Command us, Highness.”
“There are a hundred men around the temple,” said Amestris, “but none to match our two mighty barbarians, and Damaspia will have a score of armed priests within. I think a rescue is within our power, if you will lead us, Conan and Olaf.”
“Of course,” said Conan. “Take up shields as well as swords, townsmen, and if you can find bows and slings that would be to our advantage.”
“Follow us to battle, townspeople,” said Olaf, “and smite these priests of Mitra. We shall teach them not to molest innocent dancing girls and priestesses.”- - - - -
“The licentious, dissolute, profligate, wicked, shameless, degenerate, depraved,” Chilperic declaimed, “and debauched – or did I already say debauched?”
“You did not, Holiness,” an acolyte assured him.
“Where was I? Oh, yes. The cult of Ishtar, guilty of all the sins that I have listed, must be expunged from our fair city,” the High Priest resumed his tirade. “Break down the temple doors, slay their false priests, and cast down their blasphemous altars.”
The guardsmen paid little attention to Chilperic’s words. They were already engaged in battering their way into the temple. The main doors were solidly constructed, and firmly barred, but they were beginning to give way as soldiers rammed them again and again with the trunk of an uprooted palm tree. The small side doors, reached by short flights of narrow steps and thus less accessible to forced entry, were guarded by squads of spearmen in case of sorties or attempts to escape.
“Smite the unbelievers,” continued Chilperic. “Deface their obscene idols, with their naked breasts shamelessly flaunted in defiance of all that is good and decent…”
“Villain!” Conan’s voice boomed out. “False priest!”
Chilperic turned and drew himself up to his full height. “How dare you thus accuse me! Slayer, thief, and bloody-handed reaver, you have no place in the civilized lands.”
Conan flexed his mighty muscles and held his broadsword high. “A barbarian who treacherously drugged one who had come to him in good faith would be banished from his tribe. If that is your ‘civilization’ I want no part of it. Tell me, priest, where in the creed of Mitra are such actions condoned? I have met priests of Mitra in other cities and always have I found them honest, and true of word, and not eager for the blood of those of other faiths. You are a traitor to your god, priest, and that is the blackest treachery of all.”
“Lies and calumnies!” spat Chilperic. “Slay this rebel!”
Even as some of the guardsmen rushed forward to obey him Olaf, at the head of a half-dozen Shemite townsmen, fell upon the group who watched one of the temple side doors. His hammer whirled with deadly effect, shattering shields and skulls alike, and the townsmen pounced on the guards who scattered before Olaf’s fury.
Conan’s broadsword swung. A soldier fell, and then another, and an arrow from out of the dark pierced one who tried to circle Conan to take him from the rear.
The side door opened and a file of bearded priests, with shields and tulwars in their hands, emerged to join Olaf’s men. Damaspia, armed for war with a gilded shield and a long spear, brought up the rear. The combined force sallied forth and fell upon the guards who were attacking Conan.
The Cimmerian hacked his way through guardsmen and acolytes of Mitra until there were none between him and Chilperic. The High Priest turned to flee and found his way barred by Olaf’s forces. “Have mercy!” he squealed, turning back to face Conan.
“Hah! What mercy did you have upon me?” the barbarian retorted. His broadsword flashed and the priest’s head leaped from his shoulders, fell upon the ground, and rolled away.
The forces surrounding the temple still outnumbered those under Conan and Olaf by more than two to one. They were spread out over a wider area, however, and shaken by the ferocity of the barbarians. There was a short and furious clash, in which one of the priests of Ishtar and two of the armed townsfolk fell, but then the guardsmen fled leaving two dozen of their number dead behind them.
“So, Conan of Cimmeria,” Damaspia addressed the barbarian, “you are indeed a warrior as mighty as your reputation would have it.”
“And you are as fine a woman as Olaf described,” said Conan, expanding his chest. “I am glad that I was able to be of service to you.”
“Perhaps you may be of service to me in… other ways later, oh Conan,” said Damaspia, smiling, “but first we must set things right in this city.”
“Count Eligius wants me dead,” said Amestris. “The guards have been told that I tried to slay Basina.” She pursed her lips. “I want no civil strife, but there seems to be not yet any general hue and cry, and perhaps if we act swiftly we may nip this affair in the bud before too much harm is done.”
“Indeed,” said Damaspia. “With Conan and Olaf at our sides we can force a hearing. Let us go at once to the palace and demand an accounting.”- - - - -
Basina opened her blue eyes very wide. Creases appeared on her forehead. “I do not understand,” she said. “Amestris did not try to slay me.”
“Only because I discovered her plot before it could come to fruition,” Count Eligius said smoothly. When Amestris had last seen him, outside the king’s chamber, he had been wearing formal robes. Since then he had donned full plate armor. “Now she brings armed men to invade the palace. Her evil intent is proven beyond all doubt.”
“And were you not the first to bring armed retainers into the palace?” Amestris retorted. “When I last came to the palace, upon hearing the bell toll for our father and accompanied by but one man, I had to flee for my life. This time I do not make the same mistake.”
“I won’t let you take my throne,” said Basina.
Amestris rolled her eyes. “I do not want the throne, Basina. Were I to be queen I would have to marry in accordance with the requirements of the state, and not of my heart, and if I were to take a lover without marriage it would be a great scandal. As it is, if I should choose to reward Olaf for his services by taking him to my bed, then it is no-one’s business but ours.”
Olaf grinned widely. Conan gave him a wry smile and shrugged his mighty shoulders.
“Olaf?” Basina’s eyes opened even wider. “But he is ugly, and of more than human size! Conan may be also a savage barbarian but at least he is a handsome one.”
“I have been called ugly too often, on account of my nose, to worry overmuch about looks,” said Amestris, “and I do not think that Olaf’s size will be a disadvantage in the bedchamber.” She glanced aside at the troll, her gaze lingering below his waist for a moment, and she smiled. “Quite the reverse.”
Basina blushed and changed the subject. “Yet you have said that you think that I will make a poor queen,” she said. “You have said it to my face. Why should I not think that you wish the throne for yourself?”
“You have never learned to think, sister,” Amestris said bluntly, “for always have you been given what you desired because of your beauty and your status. You do not have the knowledge to rule wisely. You must choose wise counselors, from amongst those who served our father faithfully, and heed their advice. Only thus can you rule successfully. And you must not marry Eligius.” She narrowed her eyes and stared at the Count. “If you do it would not surprise me if you were to suffer a fatal accident thereafter, leaving him as the king and the city in his sole hands.”
“Witch! Liar!” Eligius spluttered. “I shall silence your venomous mouth.”
“Touch her and die,” Olaf rumbled.
“Eligius is not faithful to you, Basina,” Damaspia put in. “I know this, for his lover sought advice from me on how to avoid conceiving his child.”
Eligius snarled. His jaw tightened and he cast a quick glance from side to side. He had ten of his own men with him, including a mercenary from Nemedia in full plate armor who served as his own personal bodyguard, and there were a score of the Royal Guard to hand. Damaspia had left the armed townsmen and half of her priests behind at the temple, to protect the priestesses and dancing girls in case of any further attack, and there were only ten armed priests and the two barbarians accompanying the High Priestess and Princess Amestris. The odds were with Eligius, it seemed, and he decided to act.
“Slay the traitors!” Eligius yelled. “Attack them!” He closed the visor of his helm and drew sword, confident that his superior armor would more than compensate for the advantages of size and strength held by the barbarians, and advanced. He took the precaution, however, of making sure that he stayed behind his bodyguard.
Swords in the hands of the guardsmen clashed against the tulwars of Damaspia’s priests. Conan sprang to bar the path of the Nemedian mercenary, who was making for Damaspia, and his broadsword lashed out at the man’s helm. The bodyguard raised his shield to block the blow, but Conan’s strike was but a feint; the Cimmerian twirled his sword around and under the shield to take his opponent in the body.
The plate armor held against the sword, bending but protecting its wearer from the cutting edge that would have torn through his flesh, but the sheer savage force of Conan’s blow sent the mercenary reeling back. He stumbled and fell to the ground. Conan leapt forward, raised his sword in both hands, and drove it down. This time the armor failed and the blade pierced through. The mercenary cried out, thrashed his limbs, and died.
Basina recoiled in panic. “Protect me!” she cried out to the Royal Guard. They rushed to obey, clustering around the princess, and this meant that Eligius had only his own men with him in his attack. His plan had misfired right from the start.
The priests, although lighter armored than the guardsmen, held their own; for Ishtar was a goddess of war as well as of love, and the priests were all well drilled in the arts of combat. The Nemedian mercenary, whose armor would have been impervious to the slim blades of the priests’ tulwars, had fallen to Conan. Eligius found himself face to face with the towering figure of Olaf.
“Tiny man, you are clad in steel as if you were a black Bohuslän lobster,” said Olaf, “but it will do you no good, for I shall crack your shell. Although I shall not boil you, nor split you lengthways with a sharp knife and remove your claws and legs.” He grinned. “Or, on second thoughts, perhaps I shall indeed do that.”
“Monster!” Eligius spat out, his voice muffled by the helm. “You cannot prevail against a true knight.” He flourished his sword, a slim dueling weapon, and thrust forward.
Olaf struck the sword with his hammer and shattered the blade. “If you find a true knight, puny one, let me know,” he said, and raised the hammer high. Eligius turned to run but the armor made him far too slow to escape. Olaf brought the hammer down in a mighty blow that shattered the steel helm and crushed the Count’s skull.
“Hold!” Amestris shouted. “Eligius is dead. Let that be an end to the fighting.”
The battling guards and priests lowered their weapons.
“Then you are not going to kill me?” Basina quavered from behind her guards.
“I am not best pleased with you at the moment, sister,” said Amestris, “but I do not wish you harm.” She smiled. “Well, I might wish to give you a hard slap, but I shall restrain myself out of respect for your position.”
“Eligius is dead,” Basina said.
“That is stating the obvious,” said Amestris, “for there is but little left of him above the neck.”
Basina grimaced and looked away. “Then who shall I marry?”
“There is no need to rush into marriage,” Damaspia spoke up. “Take your time and choose wisely.”
Basina took no notice. “Katalogos of Argos is wealthy and handsome,” she mused, “although he came not in person to court me, sending only his portrait.”
“Invite him to visit, then,” suggested Amestris. “You can always send him back if he does not live up to the description.” Her lips tightened. “There are more urgent matters that must be dealt with. First you must announce that I am no assassin and call off the hunt for me.”
“I shall do so at once,” Basina agreed.
“You will need to find a replacement for the High Priest of Mitra,” Amestris went on, “for Conan has cut off the head from the old one.”
“He was a poor excuse for a Mitran,” said Conan, as Basina cast a horrified glance in his direction. “Send to Ophir or Aquilonia for one who follows the true principles of the Mitran church.”
“And send out orders that there are to be no further attacks upon the Temple of Ishtar,” Damaspia recommended, “for I have in mind tasks for Conan that he will, I trust, find more pleasant than cutting off heads.”
“I am sure that I will,” Conan agreed.
“I shall do so at once,” Basina said. “I am sorry, Amestris, I let Eligius sway me into acting without thought. Will you forgive me?”
“Very well,” said Amestris, “I forgive you, and I shall hold back from giving you the spanking that you deserve.”
“But what will you do, if it is not your wish to become queen?” asked Basina.
“In the long term,” said Amestris, “perhaps I shall take over as High Priestess at the Temple of Ishtar when Damaspia tires of the role. At this moment, however, I plan to take the mighty Olaf back to my chambers and to give him proper thanks for his deeds.”- - - - -
“You are indeed beautiful,” said Olaf, as Amestris shed her clothes and her full breasts were revealed in all their naked glory. “Spirited too, and brave, indeed in all respects you are the finest woman I have ever met.”
“And you are a man most manly,” said Amestris, running her fingers over Olaf’s naked body. “The horns are an unusual feature, true, but I can think of circumstances in which they would make a useful handhold.”
“Circumstances like this?” asked Olaf, lowering his head and putting his mouth to work.
“Yes,” Amestris agreed, squirming, and taking hold of his horns. “Yes! Oh, yes!”
Olaf concentrated for a few moments upon giving her pleasure and then picked her up and laid her on the bed beside him. “I had feared that you would choose Conan,” he said, as he took up a position above her, “for he is as fine a man as I, and better looking, and I know that he admires you also.”
“Indeed he is a worthy hero,” said Amestris, “but I chose you, and I do not regret my choice. I think that he will be well enough pleased with Damaspia, for she is skilled in the arts of love. Now, Olaf, enough talk. Take me!”
Olaf obeyed. They moved together in passion, sharing deep kisses, for many minutes of intense pleasure. At last both cried out in ecstasy and their movements ceased.
“By Odin,” said Olaf, panting, “that was pleasure almost beyond bearing.” He moved from above Amestris to beside her, one arm around her shoulders, and lay still.
“Mmm,” murmured Amestris. “You are a lover tender and considerate, mighty and yet gentle, and I would wish to spend many nights in your arms. I know that Conan has said that he plans to leave here soon, to fight the Picts, and that he wishes you to accompany him. Will you go, or will you stay here with me?”
“I am a warrior,” said Olaf, “and must go forth to battle and plunder. Yet if I go with Conan it shall only be for a time, and I shall return to you after I have pillaged the lands of the Picts and burned their crops and dwellings. And, for your sake, I shall make no merry sport with such daughters of the Picts as I might find, even should they be attractive, for none could compare with you, my Amestris.”
“That is good to hear, Olaf,” said Amestris. “May the time until you go be long and the time that you are away be short.” She snuggled close to him and laid her cheek upon his chest. “I shall sleep now.”
“As shall I,” said Olaf. “Hah! My anger at the witch who banished me to this world, claiming that she was sending me to the Land of the Trolls, was hot indeed; and yet now my anger has gone, and I could even kiss her, for she has done me a great service. Truly I could have found myself in no better place, and certainly with no better woman.”
Amestris made no reply, for she had fallen into a deep and contented sleep.