by John Ringo
For Captain Tamara Long, USAF
Born: May 12, 1979
Died: 23 March 2003, Afghanistan
You fly with the angels now.
IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY… DAY, AROUND NOONISH AND THUS NOT PARTICULARLY DARK AND THE STORM WASN’T THAT SEVERE, BARELY A GUST REALLY…
There was a truncated scream as the scantily clad woman was enwrapped by the lightning tongue of the sea serpent and whisked into his mouth. The head of the beast, two stories high and as wide as two ships parked end to end, reared up over the harbor, it single eye gleaming red as its mouth worked, opening and closing thoughtfully. As it would open, choked screams could faintly be heard.
“Phew!” it gasped. “Kind of overdid the perfume, sssister. Ugh, what ISSS that ssstuff? Eau de ssskunk oil? Royal blood, check. Virrrginnn…? Ssseriously King Pooram, you need to either put a chassstity girdle on your daughtersss or your Palaccce guardsss. Not hardly. Not even ‘hey, you don’t want to die a virgin, do you?’ hardly. Sssurpised you’re not a grand-dad. Oh, well, needsss mussst…” There was a watery crunch and a gulp. “See you in five yearsss. Ssssssuckah!”
“Oh why oh why did I agree to this gods-cursed contract?!” King Pooram wailed, his head in his hands. The throne room glittered with expensive stuff.
“We were starving,” Head Councilor Vizier pointed out.
“And now we are rich,” Councilor Redshirt said, oily, his jowls quivering in greed. “The shoals of fish the serpent sends to our waters have made us the wealthiest island in all the archipelago. And if we do not abide by the contract, the Great Cyclops Serpent will lay waste the entire island. Great King, noble King, sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good.”
“You are right, Councilor Redshirt,” the king said, lifting his face from his hands. “Guards! Take Councilor Redshirt down to the harbor, cut open his fat belly and feed the shoals of fish that make us so wealthy with his innards.”
“But Great King!” Redshirt said as he was hauled away. “I am your most loyal councilor!”
“You’re my most annoying councilor,” Pooram said, waving his hand in dismissal. “Right now, I want to lay waste to the entire island myself. Killing you will sate my anger somewhat and save many lives at the cost of one. Sometimes sacrifices must be made for the greater good.”
“No great loss, there,” Head Councilor Vizier said as the screaming wretch was hauled away.
“Agreed,” Pooram said. “But there is still the problem of the Contract. I have only one remaining daughter. Valeria was no great loss, except to the Guards and stable boys who are mourning her as we speak. Katerell was pretty but so entirely brain-dead she could be outthought by a rutabaga. Isabella, however… I need to think.”
“Oh Father!” Isabella wailed, bouncing and writhing on his lap as she had since she was a child. There was, however, some recent additional bounce. “Poor, poor Valeria! I miss her SO.”
“She used to put ants in your bed then tighten the sheets so you could not escape.”
“But she was my beloved sister!”
“She once fed you a quart of castor oil, telling you it would reveal your soul.”
“But she was my sister!”
“When you were six, she taught you to sing a quite raunchy song then locked you in the guard’s barracks all night. It’s only the gods to thank that they weren’t the current crop of guards.”
“All right,” Isabella said, flopping onto his lap and sighing. “She was a witch and I was secretly cheering when she got slurped. But in five years the serpent will demand your last daughter. That would be, in case you hadn’t noticed, me. And who shall bounce on your lap and writhe and giggle for you then?”
“You’ll be seventeen. Hopefully, someone to whom I am not related.”
“I also have been studying massage, act as your food taster and am your FAVORITE DAUGHTER,” she screamed, grabbing his chain of office and pulling her face up to his. “You have to DO SOMETHING!”
“We’ve tried heroes…”
“Try harder! The WHOLE kingdom and MY hand in marriage. I’ll make sure you get a nice apartment with a view. Throw the massage part into the advertisement. I bounce even better these days in all sorts of places and I’m getting REALLY good at the writhing…”
“Noted. Okay, I’ll put out the ads. Again. And in the meantime, I’ll try to work something out with the serpent.”
“Nope,” the serpent said, nudging the last of the blue fin into the shoals. They were meeting at their usual spot, the end of the rocky spit protecting the harbor. The king carefully failed to note the remaining blood stains from the latest would-be hero.
“You get all the fishshsh in the sea, or sssomething resembling it. More than your boatsss can catch that’sss for sssure. I keep having to herd the tuna back in again and again and again. Got any idea how hard it isss to herd tuna? You provide one daughter of royal blood every five yearsss. All you got to do isss keep on pumpin’. Losssing the lead in your pencccil?”
“Pencil’s fine,” the king said. “Wife’s not so up on the whole having her progeny eaten. And her biological clock seems to have wrung the last bell.”
“Your problem, not mine. If you don’t, I get to lay wassste to the whole island and eat everybody. Ssso if you hold out on the lassst daughter… Don’t. I’ll just eat the boat you try to sssail her off in. And if ssshe’s on the island, I’ll ssseek her out and eat her firssst as an appetizzzer.”
“It seems like an unfair agreement.”
“We were starving.”
“Because, as it turns out, you were driving all the fish away from the island.”
“Sssigned contract. Read it and weep.”
“King Borger of Lonky has a number of daughters he hasn’t been able to shift…”
“Because they’re fat and ugly. Got to hand it to you, you breed high quality ssstock. Even that lassst one, rode hard and put up wet asss ssshe was for her age, wasss pretty tasssty.”
“Thank you so much.”
“You’re welcome. And keep the heroessss coming. Lots of meat on those bonesss.”
“I’ll do my level best.”
“Beware, Serpent! I am Amawulf, Son of Beawulf, slayer of the Dread Beast of Angor! Holder of the sword…”
“Sssorry? The sssword…? Blast, he’s gone.”
“Behold Throgcrusher, Dwarven…”
“Uff, pak! Dwarvesss! You can NEVER get the beard out of your teeth!”
“Agatean? Buhani? Slurp…slurp… No… No… Tomaran, right? Was that one Tomaran? South end of the island… About twenty… eight years old. I’m right, arent’ I…? Gods I’m good…”
ENTER THE VIXEN
Five lithe, muscular and naked young men hauled the lines of the sloop while behind them, holding a whip made of twine the exact length of his inordinately short penis, capered an ancient mariner, his skin wizened and crinkled into sun-blackened leather.
“Haul the jib!” he croaked, flailing the useless whip. “Cap’n said haul the jib for the sake of the gods!”
The captain of the sloop was using one shapely but powerful hand with neatly painted nails to hold the wheel against the current while the other wielded a twenty foot pink bullwhip.
“Taut that jibsheet!” the captain cried. The whip cracked out, leaving the outline of a heart on the buttocks of one of the sailors. “Haul away you scurry dogs…!”
“Scurvy dogs! I want to see some rippling muscles and gleaming sweat!” The whip cracked out again leaving an incredibly detailed and erotic sketch on the back of another sailor.
Describing the captain from deck up, and why not after all, should start with the boots. These were boots that had been around the block a few times. But less, a discerning viewer of some thoughtfulness might surmise, because the captain couldn’t afford new boots but because in a day and age of sailing ships and cyclops sea serpents it was just gods-damnably hard to find six inch platform, broad-heel, thigh-high patent-leather boots that fit so gods-damnably well and were so damnably comfortable while walking around the block. The discerning and thoughtful viewer would probably get the impression that if the captain of the sloop ever happened upon some poor person wearing a similar pair of boots that would probably fit as well that person had better be willing to hand them over or suffer the consequences. In the meantime, a little patching, a little polish, a few dozen, okay hundreds, of rivets and they were still hanging in there.
The next description, for the discerning reader’s viewing pleasure, should probably be the flash of upper thigh above the boots. A close, circling pan, quite close, as the discerning reader metaphorically tries to tilt his or her head to the side for possibly just the teensiest flash under the inordinately short skirt you little perv straighten up and look at the thigh, damnit! would in a word association test in seventy percent of respondents probably provoke the word “tan.” An additional ten percent would be unable to say a word as their mouth was too dry. The next ten percent would probably be saying something like “Lick! Must… Lick!” The last ten percent, almost all gay males, would probably say “Oh, dear. Look at those scars. Doesn’t she know there’s creams for that? How barbaric!”
And indeed, the brief flash of thigh and, as the mental cameraman that the writer is quite upset with pans upwards at one point to reveal a bit of firmly muscled buttocks underhang, the thigh I said! shows extensive and curious scars. Some are clearly from blades, probably wielded in anger. Others, however, mimic the hearts, moons and stars that lovingly grace the backs, thighs and buttocks of the captain’s fearless crew. This captain has not simply been around the block. This captain has cruised every block in every major city in the known world to the point of wearing grooves in the sidewalks. Street vendors know this captain’s name and scantily clad women leaning against lightposts bow to this captain as to a goddess.
Mention having been made of the skirt we shall continue upwards. Were it not for a construction of narrow strips of hanging leather with iron plate riveted on thus giving the impression of the most laughable piece of armor in history, the word “belt” would be more appropriate. And not a wide belt at that. The only way that it could concede to any sense of modesty was, as the captain wore it, by being pulled so far down the upper bulge of the mons venus could be discerned by, well, just about anyone, male or female, with the slightest interest in the fairer sex. Because the vast majority would, at first sight of the captain, simply stop dead in their tracks and not quite know where to look first.
It’s worth noting that wearing a “skirt,” hah! in such a manner led to less of an issue with firmly muscled underhang than silky-smooth, gloriously-tanned, firmly-muscled overhang. And quite noticeable butt crack. In the vast majority of cases, indeed in virtually all cases, butt crack is something to be avoided. In this case, crowds would be unable to resist following it around the block, their eyes transfixed, for simply hours.
An additional circling pan would be appropriate, cameraman we’re moving up… up I said… at this point to examine the captain’s corset. Again, some concession to “armor” was made by riveting small iron plates to the black leather. But most would, again, pay this little attention. What did tend to grab attention was that the corset was, gosh, just a bit too small. Laced front and back, the back joined but the front… not so much. Thus the eye tended to travel up past the revealed pierced navel, the firm, tanned and beautiful abdomen, to…
In another day and age at that point many would be forced to exclaim…
“Okay, those cannot be real! Sorry, no effing way. That high, firm and ginormous? Where are the lines… Silicon or saline? Seriously, where’d you get the work done…?”
The remaining few, we happy few, who managed to tear their eyes away from the various amazing views, the barely hinted, because there isn’t any hinting going on here, cleavage, who managed to avoid the overwhelming and repeated desire to face plant, would follow the line of graceful neck to…
Beauty. Simple, heart-stopping beauty. The heart-shaped, scarless, lineless, perfect face of a girl just become woman. Electric blue eyes, cherry lips, perfect complexion. A face that would make Botticelli promise God to eat all his vegetables and be a better person if he could paint that face anywhere close to reality. A face that made strong men’s knees weaken and the crowds that had been glued to butt crack or breasts fall to their knees and worship the goddess.
To which the captain’s usual reaction was to throw back her long, honey-blonde hair, shake her head and say:
“Is the whole world filled with submissives? Sorry, people, I just don’t have the time and you can’t afford me anyway…”
“Haul! Haul ye sons of sea cocks…”
“Sea cooks, ma’am! Cooks.”
“Ancient mariner, cap’n. Pretty sure. Always heard it as sea cooks.”
“That’s no fun. Who cares if you’re a son of a sea cook. Could it be cocks?”
“Could be, cap’n. Anything’s possible. But always been cooks in my experience.”
“Why? I mean why cooks? Why not, oh, sea carpenters or sea butlers or something?”
“Not well thought of on boats. Not a high status job.”
“You’re the cook on this boat.”
“Are they all as bad as you?”
“I’m considered quite a good sea cook, cap’n,” the ancient mariner said, reproachfully.
“No, seriously. Pull the other one. They’re worse?”
“You burn water!”
“Only the once!”
“You mistook a pile of maggots for rice!”
“They weren’t moving much and they looked riceish. And maggots are very high in protein, cap’n. Many a port you’ll find maggots a fine breakfast after a night of roistering. Maggot pies, fried maggots…”
“Artemis’s sacred enormous penis, no wonder it’s an insult. Okay you sons of… You… Oh, just haul the damned lines! Day after tomorrow, I’m getting a kingdom and marrying princes!”
“Princess? Two s’s? You’re sure?”
“Quite sure, Madame,” King Pooram said, trying to look anywhere but at the latest hero…ine.
“I’m sure the notice I saw said princes,” Conella said, hands on her hips. “Possibly a typo?”
“They were all done in one run,” Head Councilor Name said. He’d made his decision on where to look and had no clue on the whole thing about the face. He wasn’t even sure about hair color. “Two s’s. We’ve checked.”
“Damn,” Conella said. “Details, details… I thought my luck had changed. It’s always the damned princess! Usually half the kingdom, though. Giving up a whole kingdom?”
“I’ve been promised a room with a view,” King Pooram said. “You and Isabella would be rather…”
“Agatean?” Conella said.
“I was thinking more avante garde,” King Pooram said. “She has been studying massage.”
“I read that. I was looking forward to being massaged by princes. I wasn’t even expecting a good massage. It was the whole being waited on by princes. Damn.”
“She’s rather good at bouncing and writhing on your lap,” the king muttered. “Been doing it since she was a child.”
Conella looked down at her skirt, at the king, her skirt, the king…
“Little different physiology,” she pointed out. “Oh, well, I’m here. What’s the gig? Something about a sea serpent?”
“And there you have it,” King Pooram said, fifteen minutes later.
“Fifty three?” Conella asked.
“So far,” Head Councilor Name said. “Fortunately, you… persons don’t require payment in advance.”
“Old Thog, huh?” Conella said. “Wondered what had happened to him.”
“Didn’t seem to care for the taste on that gentleman,” Councilor Vizier said.
“Definitely prefers Buhani from what I’ve gleaned,” King Pooram said.
“Oh, my hero has come to resc…” Princess Isabella cried joyfully as she swept into the throne room. “B…b…b… Whah?”
“Hmmm…” Conella mused, circling the blushing bride-to-be. “Not bad. Oh, well, girls for comfort, boys for fun, I always say…”
“Always?” King Pooram squeaked.
“Well, whenever the subject comes up,” Conella replied. “Okay, just to check the merchandise before I decide to take the gig, the advance payment is a massage. Not worth it if the massage thing isn’t a go.”
“I can always bounce on your lap!” Princess Isabella said.
“About that,” King Pooram muttered.
Conella looked at her skirt, the princess, skirt, princess…
“Wiggle?” Princess Isabella said.
“Wiggle quite slowly at first then with increasing…”
“Let’s just check out the massage, shall we?” Conella said.
“I’m not very good, am I?” Princess Isabella asked. “I can barely bulge these muscles.”
“I usually get my massages from this hulking Buhani who I swear is part orc,” Conella said. “He proudly tells a story about strangling a lion with his bare hands. His massages are the sort of pleasure one normally associates with dungeons and Iron Maidens. It’s a bit like having your muscles ripped away from your bones by hyenas.”
“That doesn’t sound like fun!” Isabella cried.
“Depends on your definition of fun,” Conella said. “So this sea serpent… Have you ever seen it in action?”
“Oh, yes,” Princess Isabella said, desperately trying to make some headway on the heroine’s rock-hard muscles. “I’m not supposed to watch but with Valeria I simply had to sneak out of the palace to see it!”
“Miss her, do you?”
“She used to put ants in my bed then tighten the sheets so I could not escape.”
“Older sister. Duh.”
“She once fed me a quart of castor oil, telling me it would reveal my soul.”
“She’s a sister. You trusted her?”
“When I was six, she taught me to sing a quite raunchy song then locked me in the guard’s barracks all night. It’s only the gods to thank that they weren’t the current crop of guards.”
“My aunt did that to me at about the same age,” Conella said. “Had a great time. I’m not sure the guards were ever the same, though.”
“Your aunt must be very naughty,” Isabella said, her eyes wide.
“She’s sort of an existential agent of chaos,” Conella said. “I think I’m more related to her than my mom. Not that mom’s sane by human standards.”
“And your father?” Isabella asked then gasped. “I’m sorry, if…”
“Yes, I know who my father is,” Conella said, chuckling. “I never got to know him very well, though. He was running around Anarchia writing wrongs and being the paladin most of my childhood. And we never really crossed paths a lot as adults. I’m not even sure he knew I was around before he died.”
“I’m very sorry,” Isabella said. “That is very sad.”
“It was a long time ago,” Conella said, sitting up. “So, tell me about this serpent. Something about the tongue.”
“It sticks out its tongue and just… slurps you in,” the girl said, cringing. “I’m really not looking forward to that.”
“Don’t worry,” Conella said. “I’ve faced a couple of serpents in my time. Anything else?”
“It… tastes its victims,” Isabella said, sniffling. “Sort of rolls them around in its mouth. Then…” she started to sob. “Crunch, slurp!”
“So, let’s see,” Conella said. “Oh, quit blubbering. Wraps you in its tongue, slurps you in, does a taste test then crunch, swallow.”
“Yes,” Isabella said.
“What about cutting the tongue?” the heroine asked.
“It seems most solid,” Isabella said. “One hero managed to hit it and the sword simply bounced off.”
“Might be able to do something about that,” Conella said, thoughtfully. “But there are other ways… Fortunately this is pretty much what I’d picked up and I came prepared. I don’t know how I missed the whole thing about princes. Details, details…”
It takes a real woman…
Conella waited at the appointed place and time, sword in one hand and a bucket in the other.
“Come on,” she muttered. “Time’s a wasting and I need a massage…”
Finally, she saw the water start to ripple as the sea serpent surfaced. She immediately lifted the bucket, dumped it over her head then tossed it out of sight. There was a faint tinkle as the glass liner broke.
The serpent moved smoothly and slowly through the water. Probably to increase the terror of the approach.
“Could you please hurry this up?” Conella muttered. One eye started to water and she gave a slight, whole-body, twitch followed by a slight groan.
Finally the serpent reared out of the water, glaring at her balefully through one red eye.
“Any lassst wordsss, hero…ine?” the serpent hissed, tilting its head from side to side. “Usssually you lot are all ‘I am sssuper hero so and so, defeater of…’ well, all sssorts of ssstuff.”
“Take your best shot, asshole,” Conella shouted defiantly, taking up a cat stance, sword up and behind her shoulder.
The serpent hissed again then its tongue flashed out.
Conella took a swipe but, as advertised, her fine Agatean blade slid right off the armored tongue of the beast. In a moment she was slurped into its mouth.
“Hmmm…” the serpent mused. “Sweet and tangy marin…?” He couldn’t quite finish the word ‘marinade’ as his mouth’s panicked nerve cells finally started communicating to his brain.
Two thousand years before had been the Wizard Wars when the glittering utopia of the Council Era had fallen into war and then devolution. For nearly four thousand years before that, however, a very specialized group of culinary enthusiasts had used careful cultivation, hybridization and often illegal gene splicing to improve upon nature in the development of certain spices. Some of the purists, even in the latter days before the Fall, still spoke for the value of such plants as Capsicum chinense. However, the development in 2683 of the new chemical variant of capsicum, cumngon, opened up whole new doors and orders of magnitude in pain such that the legendary “Scoville” scale was remanded to the dustbin of history. When the zeros get out of hand its time for a new scale. Named after the developer of the cumngon genus, the late and in most sane cases unlamented Dr. R. Franklin French, the RRRRRRR scale lumped all traditional peppers at 1.
By the time of Dr. French, there were already peppers, quite tasty and sweet as all such peppers are, rated in the thousands on the RRRRRR scale. By the time of the Fall, they were rated in the millions. In short, the ancient and well regarded jalapeno was a pallid and insipid apple compared to the lowliest of the cumngon peppers, so called because if you were so silly as to eat one straight you’d be gone.
The most lethal of the cumngon peppers was, unquestionably, the pepper generally referred to simply as Aaargh! (Cumngonus Arrrrghus) The evil wizard Anthangallagagna once tortured a hero who’d tried to assassinate him by forcing him to eat one Aaargh! pepper. The screams went on for years to the point where Anthangallagagna finally had him put down since the heartless sorcerer was tired of the noise.
Aaargh! peppers were never, ever, cultivated. They were rare even in the wild, as the quite small plant with lovely purple flowers were generally surrounded by a blasted heath some ten acres in size. Birds, quite immune to the effects of capsicum, did not approach. Those that did dropped from the sky to nourish the soil. Such heaths were often surrounded by rings of dead insects.
Conella, at great expense, had managed to obtain exactly one liter of concentrated Aaargh! juice. Which she had liberally applied to herself.
A one-eyed creature cannot cross its eyes and sea serpents do not shed tears. The gathered watchers for years afterwards swore that the serpent first crossed its eye then began to slowly cry.
What assuredly happened was a small burping sound as the serpent, which also had no gag reflex, attempted to evolve one in as brief a time as possible. This was followed by a series of exclamations generally described as a muted “Uh…uh…uh…”
The shriek started, very low at first and ascending in volume until the very walls of the palace started to sway to and fro.
“PLEASE KILLLLLL MEEEEEEEE!”
“Okee-dokily,” Conella said, striking upwards into the roof of the serpent’s mouth. “By the way, you need to brush… Oh, wait…”
“Oh, my hero…ine…” Isabella said, her hands fluttering in front of her chest.
“Don’t worry,” Conella said, an odd light in her eyes. “I really don’t think you could keep up with me and, no offense, I need a better masseuse.”
“Then there’s the kingdom,” the king said, sighing. “I hope we can agree, at least, on a comfortable room with a view.”
“Eh,” Conella said. “Been there, done that. Running a kingdom’s a lousy job. You’re not foisting it off on me. No, I’ll just take the head of the serpent and, oh, say nine thousand drachma. The Aaargh! sauce was expensive. But you’ll have to get the people together to take it’s head off for me. Pickled, please.”
“No problem,” the king said in relief. He was amazed he was getting off so easily.
“However did you figure out how to defeat the terrible sea serpent?” Isabella asked, breathlessly. She still wasn’t sure if she should be insulted that the hero…ine didn’t want her as a bride.
“Well, girly,” Conella said, patting her on the head. “It takes a real woman to defeat a one-eyed wonder-worm.”
Copyright © 2012 by John Ringo
Multiple New York Times best seller Jonn Ringo is the creator of the Posleen War saga, the Kildar military adventure series, and the Princess of Wands contemporary fantasy series, including latest entry, Queen of Wands.