Captain Jack from San Francisco meets Slave-Girl Maribel

It was dark outside, trees bending and creaking, and chilling winds blew straight through Maribel’s rugs. The slope was at an incline as she walked and somewhere in the distance she saw a white mountain top. As if that wasn’t enough it began to rain. She trudged through the sludge barefoot, feeling miserable and alone. That, of course, wasn’t true – she was not alone, as a yank on her collar brought her back from dreams of home to reality.

She was tall for a girl, around six feet, raven haired and green eyed. Her arms were shackled behind her back. Her dreams were sweet. Growing up in her village with her grandparents, stealing apples with friends, playing ball games, going to school and practicing martial arts. A lot of good martial arts have done her – she was still a slave. She wondered who would buy her and for how much. The thought of the buyer being an older man terrified and thrilled her, but women could be much worse, she knew.

The slavers called for a halt and hobbled their horses. They set up great white tents to protect themselves from the elements. The slaves, to avoid sickness and disease, were also ushered inside the tents. It was as if the slavers were doing them some wicked sort of kindness to keep them alive and healthy. However, everything comes at a price. As usual, they decided to test some part of their merchandise. Maribel had, so far, avoided being taken, but it was only a matter of time in a caravan of forty people before she was used.

A slaver, dressed in a warm coat and a pair of deer-skin trousers approached Maribel, cupping her chin in his hand and making her look directly at him. She didn’t like it.

“A feisty one, are you?”

Maribel kneed him in the groin, doubling him over. But not for long.

“I’ll beat the snot out of you, you little bitch!”

He slapped her, causing her to lose her balance and fall. In the blink of an eye he was mounted atop – he was definitely no stranger to martial arts himself. His hands were on her throat, choking her!

Her eyes rolled back as she bridged under her tormentor.

Then there was the sound of rapid hoof knocks. Maribel couldn’t see it, but she heard it.

 A voice thundered: “Halt, strangers! My men and I will block your path! The passage through this land is forbidden without the key-words! You have trespassed on the land of the Advanced Ones. Leave if you value your lives!”

“We are humble merchants, here to set camp to protect from the elements, we mean you no harm! If you walk into the tent maybe we can offer you our duty!”

“Do you know the key-words?”

“The key word is inside!”

“Very well, show me the key-word!”

The door to the tent opened and the owner of the thunderous voice was courtesy ushered inside by the slavers.

“There is your key-word! Isn’t she lovely and beautiful and smart? She had good teeth, sharp breasts, a firm ass and even book-smarts! We humbly offer her to you as a token of gratitude for allowing us to pass!  Take her and your men and let us be!”

The owner of the thunderous voice licked his lips.

“Take of her shackles and give her a sword. I prefer it when they resist!”

“That’s my kind of man!” exclaimed the elderly Father of the caravan owner. “Take off her shackles,” he told his Son, who was still on top of Maribel.

Grudgingly, the slaver let her up and opened her shackles with his keys. Another slaver handed her a saber.

The owner of the thunderous voice had a really handsome face and he couldn’t be more than in his early twenties.

He looks handsome now, but I bet lust will transform his features when he does what the caravan owner didn’t have time to do.

“Ha!” she exclaimed, lunging at her opponent.

Her thrust was parried, and before she knew it, she was cut on the thigh. The pain momentarily blinded her, but she wouldn’t be denied so easily. She lunged again, and again her thrust was parried and now a cut above her breast formed. She screamed in pain and grabbed the saber with both hands. A punch that seemed to come from nowhere knocked her to the ground. Shaking, but not letting go of the saber, she got up to all fours.

“That’s enough,” her opponent said, thrusting his sword into the ground. “It’s clear this one has a mind of a free man. You have no right to detain her as a slave!”

“You speak of rights yet you are feeling the same want for this girl as I do or as my son does. She is wearing a collar, meaning she is a slave. Can’t you accept the obvious?!”

“Perhaps, you would like to make me accept the obvious?!” demanded the stranger.

“Perhaps,” the old man croaked, picking up a sabre of his own.

They danced. The old man was out of practice, but he still had superior technique and great footwork. He circled around the courteous stranger, leaving a gush on his cheek and hitting him in the balls to double him over.

“It was obvious!” the old man said in disgust, but he never closed his mouth – because the dagger from the intruder’s waist found the inside of his mouth.

“Take your things and leave. We are not above you morally, so you may keep the rest of your slaves, but we do not allow slave traders in our parts. The Advanced Ones will have you dead if you violate the boundary of our land again.”

The owner of the slave caravan eyed the intruder with hatred, but one look at his dead father old him what he must do.

“You are stronger, so it is up to you to decide! We shall leave. You bitch, put down the sabre!”

 “No!” exclaimed Maribel, backing away.

The intruder smiled at her. “That one has proven that he is a warrior. Take off her collar.”

“Never!” shouted the caravan owner.

Maribel put the point of the saber on his throat.

“If you die here and now, you will be able to keep your word and never set me free – is that what you truly desire?!”

“Take the keys and be gone! In weather such as this no one would ask another to move from a good old bond-fire and dryness of a tent into the pouring rain, wind and sludge! Truly, a man to a man is like a wolf!” He tossed Maribel the key from her collar.

It felt good to be collar-less again.

Within fifteen minutes, the caravan took off and headed away from the mountain where the Advanced Ones dwelled.

Before they could leave, the mysterious stranger signaled the doctor in their group to take care of Maribel’s and his own wounds. Bandaging the breasts proved challenging, but despite Maribel’s blushing, they managed.

“Couldn’t you save the rest of the slaves as well?” asked Maribel of her “friend”.

“We do not meddle in human affairs, so that the humans won’t meddle in ours. We may head off a bandit slave-trader caravan, but we will never stand up to a large army of thousands of men they may send to attack us. That is why we do not interfere – so as not to annoy them valley dwellers unnecessarily.”

“Men, we head back!” the mysterious stranger thundered. “You, come climb on the horse beside me. Don’t worry, absolutely no harm will come to you if you join us.”

“Thank you,” Maribel said. “But did you really have to cut me up?”

“No, but it was more fun that way! I never learned your name, what is it?” the leader of the group of Advanced Ones asked.

“It’s Maribel. You got cut fighting to free me. What is your name?” she asked.

“It’s Jack from San Francisco. San Francisco is a city near the ocean where I lived before I drowned and came up for air in the local lake. It’s a very far-away place,” said Jack from San Francisco.
“So you are from a distant land? Wow,” said Maribel.

The horses slowly made their way up treacherous, dangerous path. The wind blew even fiercer and the buckets of rain poured down.

The mountain people, or as they called themselves, the Advanced Ones, were not intimidated by the weather. Their horses found hoof steps in the rocky mountain side along the narrow path. Without any accidents they made their way to the temple inside a huge, encircling fortified wall on top of the mountain. Stable boys took the horses from there, unloading them and wiping them down, while Jack and his men and the former slave girl sough to cleanse themselves after a difficult journey.

“You have brought a woman with you, Jack. She is an outsider and doesn’t belong here,” said a bald priest with a shiny head as Jack knelt before him.

“She was a slave, Higher One, but she has a mind of a free man, and she proved it to me. As you remember, doubtlessly, I am not from these parts either. I took it to be my duty to save her.”

“What is your name, wench? Is true what he says? Did he save you?” the bald priest asked.

“It’s Maribel. Yes, oh Higher One,” she said. “He saved me from a fate worse than death. A little bit more and I would have been raped.”

“Then he shall be responsible for you. For he couldn’t control the fire in his loins and brought with him a woman he shall be considered unclean and unwelcome among he Advanced Ones until he is rid of you!”

“If I were to lead her to her homeland, would I then be welcome to return to the land of the Advanced Ones?” asked Jack.

“Yes, if you were to take her to her homeland and leave her in safety, then you would be considered clean again. I must say I have never thought you to be so dirty – rescuing a slave? How low can you get? You must have already sinned with her in that filthy mind of yours! Are the rest of us supposed to stand back and watch your relations unfold?”

“V for Vendetta!” said Jack.

“What?” asked the priest.

“It’s a movie you should go watch. The main character saves a girl from rape only to have his way with her.”

“How dare you! Insolent!” shouted the priest.

“I beg pardon, I was arrogant!” Jack hurried to admit.

“Begone!” yelled the Higher One.

“I ask that we at least stay here until our wounds heal,” said Jack.

“You may heal your wounds on the road!” roared the priest. “Stay here tonight, but be gone by the day after tomorrow!”

“Yes, oh Higher One!” shouted Jack and led Maribel out of the temple, where the rest of the men were washing their feet in warm water and getting blessed.

“Let me show you a girl that I kind of like! She is seventeen and she looks like a Greek goddess!”

They travelled on foot to a lone hut sitting by the fortified wall. Jack knocked three times and a man twice his age opened the door. “Who goes there? Is that you, Jack? Who do you have with you?”

“She needs shelter,” replied Jack. “How about a game of chess?”

“I will play chess with you, but does this mean you have given up on marrying my daughter? You brought a wench with you!”

 “She is wounded. I thought maybe Elise could let her share a bed tonight. Just share a bed, nothing more. The day after tomorrow I am setting out on a journey to return the woman to her homeland. The priest said I have to return her to her homeland because I saved her from a fate worth then death – only then will I be considered clean.”

“You have to be clean to marry my daughter! Very well.”

“She has to agree to our marriage beforehand. I am not forcing anyone.”

“We both know she fancies you. She has painted your portrait in pencil alone half a dozen times.”

“She likes me, but does she love me? I will ask her once I get back.”

“At seventeen I know what’s best for my daughter. Come on in! Eliser, come here, dear. Take care of this injured woman. Your boyfriend and I are going to go play chess, while your Mother cooks us all a bite to eat!”

“Naghas, I am going to make beef stew!” Lejandra shouted from the kitchen. “With spices!”

“I love your stew!” shouted Naghas with laughter.

Then the men went to play chess, while Eliser slowly undressed Maribel, giving her some of her own underwear, because hers was soaked in the rain.

“If you like, I can sleep on the floor tonight and let you have my bed,” said Eliser.

“Please, I am just a peasant girl. I am not arrogant enough to chase out he Master of the house out of his bed!”
“But I am not the Master of the House – my Father, Naghas, is the Master of the House. I am only his daughter and only seventeen!”

‘Fair maiden, I’d be honored to spend the night beside you,” said Maribel.

“Then come here and snuggle. Where did you get your wounds?” said Eliser.

“They are not deep,” Maribel said. “Your boyfriend gave them to me! We dueled. He was testing me to see if I was strong and I proved I am strong. He gave me the cuts in the process.”

“I know he was strong, but I never thought he could be… sadistic. Then was it you who gave him the cut on his cheek?” asked Eliser.

“No, it was the Master of the Caravan’s Father. Jack dueled with him and killed him. It was for the sake of my freedom. It’s a little weird,” said Maribel.
“May I make a sketch of you tomorrow morning?” asked Eliser.

“I’d be honored if you would!” said Maribel.

“Yes! Good night,” said Eliser.

“Good night, Eliser,” said Maribel.

The next morning saw Jack packing his saddlebags. The rain stopped pouring and the wind, while fresh, no longer had the same power.

“We had better leave soon,” said Jack. “The High One gave us a full day, but I wouldn’t try his patience.”

“Your thunder-like voice doesn’t work on priests?” asked Maribel.

“No, it doesn’t. How good a horse-rider are you?” asked Jack.

“Not a bad one. I treat my horses sternly, but with mercy,” said Maribel.

“Maribel! Come here!” shouted Eliser. In addition to making a portrait of Maribel, Eliser gave her some of her clothes instead of her torn rugs. Most of them were too small for Maribel, but she proudly wore them regardless as a sign that she was now free to be fashionable.

“Coming!” shouted Maribel.

“You two are friends already?” asked Jack with a look of surprise.

It took Eliser two hours to record a likeness of Maribel with pencil on an easel.

Jack stared at a portrait done with impressive realism. The gently muscled body, the raven hair, the green eyes filled with pain. Of course, the pencil didn’t reveal colors, but it somehow implied them, if one looked at the original.

“You may keep it,” Eliser said and quickly ran into the house.

“I will not forget thy kindness!” shouted Maribel.

“Let’s go,” Jack said to Maribel. “If I had to pick between you two, I’d say you are more beautiful, but Eliser is prettier. Also, she has a pair of parents who love me, while you are a stranger here. I do love her art. In other words, between the two of you I would pick her. But before I can marry her, I have to take you to your homeland so I can be rid of you for good!”

“My homeland is now deserted – the slave traders levelled the village with the ground, but I have family in one of the nearby cities. So take me there! I don’t plan to be a burden on them – I can teach numbers and letters to children.”

“What are you, a pedagogue? Climb up on your horse and let’s ride!” shouted Jack.

Down the treacherous slopes they went, their saddlebags filled with food, drink and two changes of clothes – Maribel’s clothing thanks to Eliser. Jack rode a brown mare, and Maribel rode a slightly taller black one.

After noon, they hobbled their horses in a nearby shire.

“I have a question, before we go too, too far into the lowlands. How far from here was your village? I don’t even really know where we are going.”

“It was a tiny village. Two day’s ride at a decent trot. It was a week ago that the slavers struck. But it’s leveled to the ground now, so I must seek refuge in one of the cities with my aunts and uncles.”

“You plan to teach kids how to read and write?” asked Jack.

“It’s either that or earn a living by singing and dancing!”

“You can sing and dance? Let’s see it!” demanded Jack, grinning and snapping his fingers.

“No. We have a long road ahead of us, so I must save my strength. Besides I don’t want to open my wounds,” said Maribel.

“Come on! Sing and dance for me!” said Jack.

“No, for I must not open my wounds!” said Maribel.

“Please! Just do it!” said Jack.
“No!” said Maribel.

A fleet of crows was startled by their argument and took to the sky.

“Fine, have it your way. I don’t want to get to know you; I just want to dump you off at your relative’s front porch,” said Jack.

“Thanks for that,” drily said Maribel. “My life since the destruction of my village has been all sunshine and roses and the cherry on top was your coming – my knight in shining armor!”

“You don’t have to sing and dance if you don’t want to,” wearily said Jack. “Presently, in just ten minutes, we ride onwards! I just got to take a piss first!”

“Go in the bushes over there!” Maribel said, pointing at an undergrowth.

Jack disappeared in the brush. Maribel waited patiently, but when he didn’t show in ten minutes, she considered going over there to check on him. Ten minutes later, she did.

“Can’t a guy take a shit without someone watching?” complained Jack.

“You said you were taking a piss… do you need something to wipe your ass off?”

“I have got all these tree leaves,” shrugged Jack, sill squatting.

They got back on the road soon, their sure-footed horses finding the path with little intervention from the riders.

“Did you know that there are hot-springs at the base off the mountain?”

“No, I did not. But I can’t soak in hot-springs or my bandages will come undone.”

“All you have to do is let your feet soak a little bit – that counts, too.”

“If you say so, Sir.”

At the base of the mountain groups of people were bathing in hot springs – men and women wearing nothing but bath-robes or towels. Maribel looked at them and blushed, while Jack seemed to get excited.

“Woohoo!” he exclaimed, testing the water with one hand. “It’s hot!”

“Is that going to stop you?” Maribel asked with a wry smile.

“Nope,” said Jack, taking off all of his clothes, but leaving the bandage on his cheek. Maribel didn’t know whether to look away or follow him. As Jack splashed in the water, she decided to try the water herself. She had some underwear, thanks to Eliser, but she also had two bandages that she didn’t want soaking in the water. In the end, she compromised, sitting on the rocky ledge and letting her feet dangle in the bubbly water.

“Come on in!” demanded Jack, getting out of the hot-springs, and splashing handfuls of water on her from behind, soaking her entire back.

 “You idiot! I can’t get in without bloodying up the water for everyone else!” yelled outraged Maribel, cuffing Jack on the ear, not caring about who was stronger in the heat of the moment. The man backed up, embarrassed.

The people around them laughed, seeing he exchange of pleasantries and further embarrassing both of them.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

“Let’s get going,” Jack said, getting dressed and mounting a horse with no time wasted in-between.

“Before we go, let’s get our bearings,” Maribel said wisely. “Hey, you! Excuse me, but where is the city of Delectar?”

“Two days ride north-west from here at a decent canter!” came the friendly reply. “You can stop at an any inn you see by the side of the road.”

“The sun sets in west, right? So, if the sun is on my left, all we have to do is go straight and left.”

“Do you realize that we just met our first sunset together?” Jack asked, as they rode onwards.

“So what? You talk like we are close. We are not,” replied Maribel. “You are just delivering me to my homeland because the priest told you too. After you do that, you’ll just leave, won’t you? You tested me and I proved I am strong, but that doesn’t mean I have your affection, does it? It just means I am a little luckier than the rest of the slaves in that caravan. So stop talking about sunsets.”

“No,” Jack said. “I’m sorry I said that; I shouldn’t have said that. Let’s stop at an inn or tavern if we see one, we both need some rest.”

“You don’t intend to sleep in the same bed with me, do you?” said Mairbel.

“We can each sleep in our own bed tonight if we just find an inn or a tavern. Sharpen your eyes and look for an inn or a tavern,” said Jack.

“Isn’t that one over there? I can finally go pee!” shouted Maribel.

“You mean you didn’t pee yet? Are you stupid?” said Jack.

“I just didn’t want you watching! You do have the coin to pay for lodgings, don’t you?” said Maribel.

“Of course!” replied Jack.

They knocked on the door, holding their horses reins. Immediately a young stable boy took their horses, telling them that he would feed them oats, and if that the visitors hurried, they would make it in time for supper.

Jack tossed the boy a copper coin, asking him to take good care of the horses. The boy’s face shined brightly.

The inside of the inn was clean swept. Patrons sat on sturdy wooden furniture and played cards as the smell of roasting sheep got caught in their nostrils, spread from the red-brick fireplace.

The inn was full of travelers, but there were two small, separate rooms with reasonably soft beds left for Jack and Maribel in the left wing. Before going to bed, Jack sat down to play cards with the other travelers. A group of four had a game going.

“What’s the score?” Jack asked, trying not to look like he suspected cheating.

“It’s all written here on this sheet of paper,” replied the fashionably dressed dealer. His pantaloons and shirt were red and green silk. Beside him was a smile pile of golden coins. The other two players, much less fashionably dressed, were losing just like Jack.

“He is a cheater and not a very good one,” proclaimed Maribel, returning from the loo. “Look at how he is the only one winning. Let me see he cards! Let me see them! The spades feel thinner and the diamonds thicker!”

“Maribel, what do you think you are doing? Excuse her, she is not herself after a long day’s road, so she is talking nonsense.”

“I am telling you these cards are marked!”

“Are you accusing me of cheating?” demanded the dealer.

“Can’t you tell that there are three of them?! I forfeit this round, my friends. Here are your winnings, and good night.”

“Good night to you, sir,” replied the fashionably dressed dealer.

Jack grabbed Maribel’s arm and led her to her room.

“Can’t you tell that would have ended in a three on one and postponed your chances of re-uniting with your family?”

“You were so brave before, so why is it that you cover from three cheaters with me by your side?!”

“Oh you are by my side, are you? Didn’t you ask me not to talk about sunsets before?”

“So you are just going to allow them to take your money?”

“Yes! I am no beggar, I have a source of income. I did not lose much, but I gained some valuable information – they told me Delectar is only a day’s gallop away.”

“We knew that much already,” replied Maribel.

They turned around and went to their separate rooms. They turned and tossed in their beds, preying for sleep to come, but it didn’t. Not right away. When it did, there were no dreams for either of them.

                  

***

Maribel’s cousin, Kelgar, a handsome, neatly dressed fellow with freckles, cut a hunting dog’s throat in one swift motion. The dog tried to bark, and blood foamed at its mouth as it convulsed.

“You don’t exactly bleed vine, do you? But without his favorite hunting hound, the king won’t catch much game tomorrow. Meanwhile, I can feed the king a royal meal!”

He cut out the dog’s heart – to him it was just a piece of meat. However, he didn’t think to change his clothes and simply headed to the kitchen where the cooks prepared food for the king and the court. He knew his way around the kitchen and it wasn’t much trouble for him to place a piece of meat on the shelf. He then returned to the kennel, picked up a shovel and buried the dog’s remains. He even planted a rose on its grave.

The things began to unravel the next day. Someone saw him going to the kitchen wearing bloodied clothes and then someone saw him planting a rose near the kennels. The kennel master put two and two together, and ordered the ground where the rose was planted to be dug up, which revealed a dog corpse.

“You bastard, what have you done?!” demanded the kennel master, Frakim Bron, dressed for the hunt from Kelgar, slapping him hard across the face.

“First tell me something, o Kennel Master. Has all the meat that was prepared yesterday been served to king and his court?”

“Why, I don’t know. Let me see… Boy! Come here. Go check with the Head Chef, if they have already server all the yesterday’s meat.”

The boy took off running, his fleet heels rapidly striking the ground. He got back within ten minutes.

“Sir, the Head Chef informs you that all of the meat from yesterday has already been served to the king!”

Kelgar doubled over in laughter. “Then the king ate the heart of his hound!”

“Why you..! Guards, chain this fool and bring him before the king!”

Kelgar didn’t put up a struggle when, as he was laughing hysterically, the guards brought him before the King, in the Royal Court, where the noble men lounged on soft sofas watching half naked girls belly dance and sipped their drinks.

“How does bleeding dog heart taste, Your Majesty?” he asked politely. “Is it the same flavor as the wine from the vineyard you annexed from my family?”

Goremar the First face turned red and for a moment he held his breath. Then he spoke a single word: “Execute!”

“Your Majesty,” a complete stranger in the court thundered, “if you wish to be in the right and have your descendants forever remember your wisdom, then execute this man, but restore to his family the vineyards outside the city!” He was about six feet tall, brown haired and blue eyed, wearing deer-skin trousers and a jacket of wolf-fur.

His Majesty didn’t have the chance to respond. The same boy that was sent to the kitchen intruded on the royal court, completely out of breath.

“Your Majesty! The gates to the Delectar have been locked for we are under siege!”

“Under siege, but by whom?”

“By our hostile neighbors, people of the desert - Shmashlams! They have thousands of warriors!”

“To arms, men! You must protect me, for I am the King!”

“Your Majesty, I am Jack rom San Francisco and I know that these people, the Shmashlams have a custom of deciding things by single combat! I shall be your champion and in exchange you grant pardon to this young men and restore to his family their vineyards!”

“So be it! If your skills are as stunning as your voice, I will favor you as Delectar’s only champion!” declared His Majesty.

Maribel put a hand on Jack’s shoulder: “Be careful, my Brother, our single combat champion!”

“I will keep you safe, Sister!” responded Jack, smiling and showing yellow teeth.

“Have the trumpeters sound the call for single combat!” declared the King. The noblemen of the court took arms and followed the King, Maribel and Jack to the front gate. An arrow flew over the wall and struck the ground between the king’s legs. Yellow piss flowed down Goremar the First’s elegant boots.

“It’s no shame, Your Majesty,” Jack said. “I shall protect you!”

The trumpeters sounded the call, and the same call was returned by those laying siege. To avoid unnecessary bloodshed and maintain civility and gentlemanly conduct, single combat would solve this crisis. The Shmashlams believed in their tried and true champion, while Jack’s voice was his recommendation.

Jack unsheathed his sword and adjusted his dagger so it would be more comfortable to reach it. In front of the gates stayed a force of thousands camel people, all of the putting their trust, hope and dreams into a single champion – a giant mallet and shield wielding beast!

“Shit yourself, for here I come!” shouted Jack at the top of his healthy mountain-air breathing lungs. His voice picked up a few decibels and made the opponent tremble.

“You insect!” shouted the Shmashlam dark-skinned champion. He was two heads taller than Jack and it would be a li to say Jack wasn’t intimidated.

Jack overcame a panicky moment of complete terror when the Shmashlam champion raised and brought down his mallet. If it hit, it would smash bone like a twig. Jack danced around the enemy, poking at him with his sword, but always making contact only with the shield. The mallet rose and fell, but Jack dodged in time. The shield pressed him to back away and fall. He scrambled to his feet and the mallet dented the ground where his head was a moment ago.

Jack held his sword with two hands and swung it hard at the opponent. He hit the shield and got pushed back. There was no chance of parrying a blow from the mallet with his sword, so he backed away again and the enemy’s main weapon struck the ground where he was just a brief moment ago.

All these people watching… some hoping for my victory, some for his… yet they are all powerless to change the luck of either one of us. I’ll make him swing and miss, he has got to get tired… I just hope he gets tired faster than I do and not the other way around!

Jack lowered his sword just a little, inviting a swing from his mighty opponent, the giant, swung and missed as Jack danced away.

“Don’t dance, fight me!” shouted the giant.

“Be prepared to meet your Maker!” shouted Jack, striking the very center of the opponents shield and pushing him back in due turn.

“So… what is your name?” asked Jack.

“You will die without knowing it!” responded the giant.

“Will I really or will you fall dead at my feet?” asked Jack.

As the mallet came swinging down, he ducked underneath it and came within thrusting range. Once he was close enough, he struck, forgetting everything, even his own defense. The point of his sword pierced the armpit of the mallet arm, but a backswing from the mallet struck his elbow. Both men screamed in terrible pain. Jack let go of his sword. The giant let go of the mallet, still holding on to the shield however, while, of course, Jack held on to his dagger.

“So do you still not wish me to know your name?” asked Jack, shaking in pain and gasping for air.

“We can workout a treaty,” his opponent said. “Among our people, the city dwellers are considered soft. But you are not soft or weak; you duel with honor. Argham is my name. For a tribute, we shall leave your city in peace and avoid further bloodshed. What is your name?”

“I am Jack from San Francisco,” responded the smaller man. “And I think a treaty can be worked out, for I have no desire to die here. I’ll see you at the negotiating table. Peace, brother, peace.“

“Peace be with you, brother.”

Both men turned around and walked away, nursing their terrific wounds.

At the city gates King Goremar the First faced Jack of San Francisco.

“Why did you allow him to escape?” the King demanded.

“By fighting and shedding each other’s blood we became brothers. I couldn’t have killed that man for he is too strong. He couldn’t have killed me for I am too fast. We made due with the injuries we each received and decided to walk away before we killed each other. Now it is your turn to show wisdom and find a compromise or treaty that can be worked out.”

“What treaty? Why didn’t you just kill him?”

“I do not wish to die, that’s why. You can go and challenge someone in a fight to the death if you like. Now, I need a medic.”

“You were supposed to protect the City of Delectar, yet you cowardly turn your back on an enemy?! You will have a medic, but after he has healed you, you will be hung!” said King Goremar the First.

“Your Majesty may hang me,” gravely said Jack, “but I hope Your Majesty keeps Your word and returns the vineyards as well as preserves the kennel boy’s life.”

“I did see you fight bravely, although not to the bitter end and I am not a monster. Very well, you may trade your life for the vineyards and life of the kennel boy who blamed a poor hunting dog for his family’s misfortunes. He shall live, knowing that for his sins and for your cowardliness, you will die!” said Goremar the First.

“I suggest you keep me alive while you negotiate the treaty – Argham wished me peace, so he will not be happy to find out you hung me,” said Jack.

“Nonsense! I will not see a wounded man in pain executed, but as soon as you see a medic for your wounds, you’ll be hung!”

The guards led Jack away to be seen by a medic. The medic led them to a nearby home, whose inhabitants permitted her to use the premises for her task.  She turned out to be a young woman in her twenties with blond hair, green eyes and a very bitter tongue. The three children from the owners family, ranging in age from pre-pubescent to teen-age stared at the wounded Jack.

“Why did you have to go off and get your arm shattered? Ha? Tell me, because I don’t know why you men do things like that!”

“I don’t know myself, to be honest with you,” smiled Jack, then screamed as she re-adjusted the splints.

“You’ll not live long enough to heal this wound, yet here I am, dutifully making splints! Why didn’t you just die outside the city walls, you would have saved yourself and everyone else the trouble!”

“I don’t know, to be honest with you,” smiled Jack through the pain.

“Here is some opium for your pain - I’ll make a cataplasm over your skin where the bone sticks out. Guards! You can take this man away in ten minutes.”

“Your fate has been decided, friend,” said one of the halberd carrying guards in red and black uniforms, prodding Jack with the butt of his halberd. “You’ll be executed tonight at the Central Plaza. Now get up and get a move on! The sooner you get it over with, the better!”

If he were at full strength, Jack could have tried to escape, but with a wound like his and his stamina so taxed he had no chance.

“Coward! Coward! Coward!” the mob around him chanted.

His arms were shackled behind his back and he was led to a pedestal from which he would hang and a rope fashioned around his neck.

“God, forgive my sinful ways, for I am about to die!” muttered Jack.

Out of nowhere, a rose wreath fell on his head and settled around his neck. The thorns tore at his skin, but he didn’t mind, amazed and shocked by the gesture.

“I invoke an ancient custom! A man about to be married cannot be executed!” cried Maribel. She was leading her city family and they were numerous. At least a dozen people from her family began to chant her words.

“A man about to be married cannot be executed! It’s an ancient custom!”

In the crowd there came a murmur: “He is about to be married! We cannot execute him!” People in the crowd began to shout:

“Stop the execution!” “This man must live!”

 “Life to the forsaken and the damned!”

“Life to the prisoner!”

 “He fought bravely for us!”

 “Let him live!” “He is going to be married, so let’s avoid unnecessary bloodshed!”

King Goremar looked outraged.

“Your Majesty, perhaps it’s wiser to let the guy live,” said one of the noblemen from his court, an older man who usually kept quiet.

“There is such a custom,” added the court’s jester, a bitter intellectual wearing a fool’s checkered shirt and a cap with bells.

“Silence, you fools! I’ll let him live for now, but only for the sake of the young woman who threw that wreath of thorns. I’d like to meet her!”

“Your Majesty wouldn’t happen to have the primal nakht custom in mind?” shrewdly asked the jester.

“Depends on the quality of the girl!”

Meanwhile, Jack was freed from the rope around his neck and the shackles on his wrists by the guards.

“Here are your weapons which we took when we arrested you,” said the Captain of the Guards, a tall and agile man. He handed Jack his sword and dagger.

“Before they are married, their majesty would like to invoke his right to the first night! Primal nacht! The marriage will have to wait until their Majesty  has had a taste of the girl!”

The people rooted and yelled encouraging words. The public wanted entertainment and they would not have minded if the King Goremar the First had taken the girl by force in public.

“My love!” shouted Jack. “Allow me to embrace you before you go!” he shouted. The people let him through.

“I hope you appreciate what I have done for you!” said Maribel, with a tear flowing down her cheek.

“Oh, I do,” whispered Jack, pressing his dagger under the bandage encircling her breast. “It’s not every day you get to lay a king. Be safe.”

Maribel didn’t expect such a gift and her heart performed a salto mortale even as she wrapped herself in her coat to hide the dagger from the eyes of the guards.

The halberds carrying guards escorted Maribel to the Kings bedroom, a place of frivolity and defloration.

They ushered her in, and stood guard outside.

Goremar he First, dressed to impress in precious purple-dyed cloak, thrusted his hips at her.
“Your Majesty, what will you have of me?” asked Maribel with her eyes downcast.

“I wish to have your favor, my beautiful young girl. I wish you to please me!”

“Alright, your Majesty! I will do my best to please you!”

“Come my girl, come closer. Let me see your worth! All those baggy clothes are hiding the bitchy essence of who you are!”

Maribel approached the King and leaned towards him on the bed, as he lay down on his back, his arms outstretched to her.

“I know how to use this!” she whispered pressing the blade of the dagger to his neck first, then gripping his laryngeal prominence and tickling his balls with the point of the blade. “I have trained in Martial Arts. Tell me, would you rather if I sang you a lullaby or turned you into a castrate?”

“Definitely sing me a lullaby!” whispered the King.

“Very well, but your Majesty has to promise to try to fall asleep!” replied Maribel.
“Aye, sing me a lullaby!” said the King.

“I will sing and dance for you!” said Maribel.

First she removed her coat, revealing the bra she wore and a bandage beneath. Her elegant, graceful movements hypnotized as she smiled.  Then her pants were the next to go. She danced half-naked before the king and slashed and kicked an imaginary opponent as hard as she could. Sometimes her shadow got the better of her and she would fall back whimpering, just to attack again, roaring like a tigress.

The King lay on the bed, making no move to call the guards. He was mesmerized.

Slowly, as if I took her a lot of effort, but cheerful never the less, she stripped off her underwear, dancing completely naked before a man.

“A nameless beauty dawned on a sleepless night,

Brought me relief and joy.

From my wrath all of humanity may die,

But her I would rather kill not.

I jump to reach the star in the midnight sky

But she is too far away,

Her gaze burns brightly in the night,

My body feels the warmth and falls asleep.”

“What is your name fair maiden? For what you have done for me I will never be able to thank you. Pray, tell me your name!”

“It’s Maribel, Your Majesty. Now, as promised, fall asleep!”

“You have nothing to fear from me! I pray you find love in your marriage. If you wish to sell your body to me in the future, though, I will pay any price! I am most gracious!”

“Yes, your Majesty you are truly gracious,” nodded Maribel picking up her clothes, and blushing. “But now I wish to go see my tomorrow-husband. Sleep, Your Majesty.”

She fled the room, pulling her clothes on haphazardly, much to the amusement of he guards. But Jack’s hand in marriage was worth all of this.

She found Jack at her Uncle’s house. It was a three story brick and wood structure, with a garden where cherries grew. Everyone in there seemed to be preparing for tomorrow’s wedding. Her appearance started a series of murmurs.

“Look, she is back!”

“She must have really pleased the King!”

“Lucky Jack, I wish I was in his place!”

 Jack approached her, smiling. He embraced her warmly and whispered in her ear: “Eliser will not marry a bigamist.”

“She doesn’t have to – you can stay for me, can’t you?”

“Are you feeling alright?” asked Jack, putting his hand on her forehead.

She slapped him. “Do you want to die? Because that’s the only other option you’ve got. We are to be married tomorrow. The King does need you for the talks and as a champion in his army – if you refuse that role or refuse to marry me, he will see you hanged!”

“I wish to keep you safe, Sister, even if your head isn’t quite right now. I will participate in the talks to see Delectar remains independent, but after that I am going to leave,” he said. “I live amongst the Advanced Ones, I have a fiancé there and that’s not going to change until she marries me and becomes my wife. I’ve now courted her for two years and will not see that go to waste.”

Kelgar approached and made a gesture for Jack to come closer, whispering something into his ear.

“Our family held vineyards outside the city for generations, before the king annexed it. There could be no better use for it now than if it was used to pay tribute to the Shmashlams! At least that way the king can’t take it back and it will be used to save Deelectar. If he throws you in prison, use this to bribe the guards and I will lead you to freedom through the secret underground catacombs that only members of my family know...”

Jack listened and smiled, receiving a blood red ruby the size of a large strawberry.

“Sister, I wish you good night. Tomorrow the talks will be held and once they are over, we are to be married.”

“You are not my brother, so stop with the nonsense. You are my future husband!”

“Good night, Sister,” Jack said, walking past infuriated Maribel.

Maribel’s relative were wealthy enough to have several guest rooms. Jack lay in an accurately made bed without covering himself with sheets or taking off his clothes. Despite the opium, his arm hurt too much for him to fall asleep.

In the morning the King and his guards came for him to escort him to the talks. The king wore his hunting attire – green and blue coat and trousers, shiny black boots.

“Delectar and I need you as a royal champion,” said Goremar to Jack. “Maribel needs you as a husband. You will sit at the negotiations table and help negotiate a treaty that is acceptable to both parties. Then you’ll return to the city and marry Maribel. And if the enemy comes again, you’ll defeat him soundly and to the death. Now, don’t defy me and I shall be gracious. You will want for nothing in this city of mine!”

“Your Majesty, my wish is to see Delectar independent, so I will offer a word of advice. Offer all the wine from the vineyards as tribute and it should be enough to appease the Shmashlams, for the nomads don’t have wine as fine as is made in Delectar. As for Maribel – I am engaged and cannot marry her. You may cast me to the dungeons and see me hanged, but I will be true to my bride.”

“So be it. After the talks at the negotiations table the guards will take you to the dungeons until you change your mind – I am only being this gracious with your life not merely because I am not a monster, but for the sake of the healthy, beautiful young girl who has fallen for you with all her heart!”
“She is like a Sister to me and I am like a Brother to her and that’s not going to change,” spat on the ground Jack.

The negotiations were held inside at a red wood round table that Goremar’s guards brought in folded state out on the open air.

The King’s guards stood behind their king like a wall, while Jack walked alongside him.

“I wonder who the barbarians have brought to represent them,” Goremar said. “I’m bringing you and my court jester, because for all his stupidity the man is a genius and very protective of me. They have a great warrior in the man you faced, but is he also their leader?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” shrugged Jack. “I hope he will be a familiar face at the negotiations though.”

The dark-skinned Shmashlams representatives were four, and one of them was a woman with a scarf covering her hair. Argham was there too, pale from the loss of blood, but alive and as intimidating as ever since he was muscular and over seven feet tall. The other two were apparently the ruler and his second in command, brothers who walked and talked practically in tandem. The older brother introduced his party to Delectarians.

“I am the leader of the Shmashlams, my name is Alemrod the Dark. This is my Brother, Kelemrod the Bright. You have already met Argham and this is his Mother, the chief medic and mystic of our people. Her name is Kirean. What do you have to offer us for leaving your city in peace?”

“We offer you the finest wine in the land,” said Jack. “The wine produced from the vineyards of Delectar will cement the friendship of our people, and in exchange, you promise to defend Delectar from other people’s aggression.”

“This wine had better be as good as you say it is. By how proud you are of it, it sounds like it is…”

“It is the nectar of the Gods…” said the jester.

“It’s divine,” said Jack.

“I’ll take your word for it, my Brother,” said Argham. “Well, these talks are over. Our people had better get moving, for there are other cities to besiege.”

“I won’t forget you, Brother,” said Jack from San Francisco.

King Goremar turned to Jack. “Do you still intend to deny me?”

“Argham, what do you say to a king who cannot be trusted? Do you make a pact with a ruler who doesn’t respect his own subjects?”

“It’s all the same to me, so long as the wine is good,” said Arkham,  but then catching Jack’s pleading gaze, he shook his head. “But I wouldn’t trust him to keep his word, which means we won’t receive any wine at all. Perhaps the hostilities shall continue!”

“I can be trusted and I do not mistreat my subjects!” King Goremar declared, outraged and terrified. “You are free to live the city as you will. Good bye, brave Jack.”

“I need a horse to ride,” Jack said.

“We will give you a horse,” Arkham said.

Jack bit his tongue before he said the Advanced Ones had a bride for Jack. The Advanced Ones didn’t want trouble.

Three days later Jack, wounded and in pain, but happy never the less, arrived on a fiery white stallion to the land of the Advanced Ones. He wasn’t worried about Maribel – a girl like her could survive in any conditions. The Stallion he gave to Eliser’s parents, the ruby to Eliser herself.  The young girl blushed as light reflected off the gem and gave him a kiss on the cheek which made him blush.