The Warrior from the East
My alter-ego, who’s been commandeering most of my writing time for the last fifteen years or so, is more accustomed to portraying warrior women than the traditional men of history and legend. But I’ve always loved reading historical fiction—Roberta Gellis’s well-researched Middle Ages romances especially—and have written several short stories in historical settings myself, without neglecting the appeal of strong, sexy men.
As a sample, my prize for anyone who comments here and requests it—yes, anyone; no contest—is a copy of my alter-ego’s fantasy story “Flesh and Stone” in .docx or .rtf format. This story was original published in Mitzi Szereto’s Thrones of Desire and chosen for Maxim Jakubowski’s Mammoth Book of Best New Erotica 12. It has a woman gladiator champion, a seductive bisexual slave, and a man so hunky that he spends much of the story (but definitely not all!) as solid stone. I’m also offering a paperback book for the drawing at the end of this blog tour: Duty and Desire, edited by Kristina Wright for Cleis Press. I have two stories in this anthology, “Night Witch” (as Connie Wilkins) about a Russian woman bomber pilot in WWII and a wounded Russian sniper, and “Sergeant Rae” (as Sacchi Green) about two contemporary woman soldiers building a life after war injuries.
This theme of Wild Warriors grabbed at my imagination. Much as I’ve read (and fantasized) about Highlanders and Vikings and Knights, once I thought about it, I realized that the greatest warriors of the Middle Ages were the Mongol hordes, the hardy horsemen who swept down from the steppes of Mongolia to conquer the largest contiguous land area in the history of the world. China to Russia, Poland, Hungary, the Caucasus…Ah! The Caucasus! A week of research and I had my heroine, Ardzvik, the hereditary Lady of a province in Armenia, with a castle on a mountainside. Ardzvik, “Eagle” in Armenian, who could temper her fierce nature for the sake of her people, but unloosed her fury—and then her desire—when her hunting falcon was threatened.
I had my hero, too, Yul, the Governor (Darugha in the Mongol tongue) appointed by the Khan to rule Georgia and Armenia. A skilled and sometimes brutal fighter, Yul Darugha has unexpected depths, and an intense, unexpected appeal to Ardzvik’s senses. But how to provide an image of him here for the reader? Well, if you know anything about pre 1980s movies, you know why I chose to name my character Yul. The actor Yul Brynner, who tweaked his name and background to magnify the Mongol part of his heritage, was exotic enough to play any part from the King of Siam to the Pharoah of the Ten Commandments to a gun fighter on an alien world. To give you a visual image, I spent more time than was absolutely necessary looking through photos. Sometimes I think research is more fun than writing!
With those images in mind, here’s an excerpt from near the beginning, and if you read all the way to the end—or, heck, even just scroll through it—you can comment to get a free copy of “Flesh and Stone.” No contest, just a prize for all.
A Falcon in Flight
When word of defeat came from Georgia’s capital Father Kristopor searched Ardzvik out on the mountainside where she hunted with her falcon Zepyur. She knew, seeing him from far above, what his mission must be, and cursed fate for robbing her of the longed-for solace she reserved for such fine, cloudless days, when the blue sky went on above her forever and Zepyur soared high and free with no likely prey in sight. At least the priest had not discovered her in the midst of what he would surely consider sin.
“Now is the time,” he called, and then, when he was closer, “Send at once to the Mongol general! Say that the Province of Aragatsotn in Armenia has long been a vassal of Georgia, so it is only right that its people offer fealty to Georgia’s new rulers. I will bear the document myself. The Mongols are quick enough to sack churches, but I have heard that they retain some degree of respect for holy men of any faith.”
“Surrender without a battle.” The words, bitter on Ardzvik’s tongue, burned even more in her heart.
“Without blood! Surely they would rather have the wine of our vineyards and grain of our fields than the lifeblood of those who tend them. Dead men cannot be taxed.”
So it was done. Ardzvik Zakaria, Lady of Aragatsotn, signed above the seal presented to her father’s father in Tbilisi by the legendary Queen Tamar of Georgia.
As soon as the priest rode his mule northward Ardzvik retrieved her falcon from the mews and rode again high onto the mountain. Zepyur was still as swift and graceful, the sky as blue, but now the Lady of Aragatsotn could not shed her duty, her constraints, and be pure flesh and spirit. Lying back on tufted mountain grass she envisioned, as she had so often, the airborne mating dance of the wild falcon pair who had produced her own sleek hunter, but she could not rid her mind of earth-bound turmoil.
Her hands knew all the ways to pleasure herself, the places to twist or stroke or beat with rough force while a part of her soared aloft with the falcons, the earth dropping away, away, until they plummeted together as one through space. Falling, falling, diving faster than anything could fall, cold air ripping past, battering, the ecstasy forced deeper and deeper, keener, unbearable…and her own ecstasy bursting forth at last like the cataclysm that had torn open the mountain’s peak.
But this time, no matter how hard she rubbed or deeply she probed, she achieved only a sharp burst of sensation as much pain as pleasure. The scream forced from her throat was of rage, not triumph, and tears flowed hotter on her cheeks than the rivulets of sweet release between her thighs. Surrender without battle. Dishonor. But duty nonetheless.
The Mongol general returned a provisional acceptance and sent men to assess an initial amount of tribute. Within months he was appointed Governor, or Darugha in the Mongol tongue, of southern Georgia and northern Armenia.
Now, weeks later, the mighty Yul Darugha had come to view the corner of his territory dominated by Mount Aragats, the highest point in Armenia.
This Mongol was less ugly than expected, Ardzvik thought. Perhaps even handsome if one became accustomed to his shaven head, bold, high cheekbones, and tilted eyes beneath eyebrows with the graceful swoop of a hawk’s wing. Muscular, as well, which would please Leyli, and a fine rider, though Leyli’s interest in riding did not always involve horses.
Ardzvik sensed the shift in Leyli’s mood. One form of tension had yielded to quite another. “So, sweet sister,” she murmured, “are you still of a mind to slay this Governor should you get the chance?” She would not permit Leyli to do any such thing, of course, bringing the fury of Batu Khan’s forces down upon them, as Leyli knew quite well.
“Yes, I will kill him if I can! For the sake of poor Mihran! But…not, I think, right away.” Leyli allowed her milk-white mare to fidget under her, enough to draw the Mongol’s attention away from Father Kristopor’s diplomatic speech of welcome. The man had already surveyed the mare with all the admiration due her, and Leyli too, though less overtly. Now, as the girl peered flirtatiously through lowered eyelashes and fiddled in feigned nervousness with her long golden hair, it seemed that he could scarcely wrench his gaze away.
Ardzvik’s own high-bred bay mount had been assessed favorably as well, though she herself elicited a puzzled frown. Just as she had intended. Despite Father Kristopor’s disapproval, she was dressed soberly in garb so simple that she might have been mistaken for someone of much lower rank, in contrast to Leyli’s azure robes gleaming with gold brocade. All the easier to assess his reaction to her half-sister’s charms before Ardzvik had cause to care. Not that such a thing was remotely possible.
She had not much cared that “poor Mihran,” a minor prince of Georgia sent officially to court her, had lost his heart and whatever virginity he might have had to Leyli instead. Ardzvik was sorry for his death during the fall of Georgia, but not on a personal level. Better she should never care over-much for any man.
Father Kristopor closed his speech with an offer of the hospitality of the castle as lodging for the Darugha and his men. The interpreter did his part, and the Mongol said a few words in response. The priest signaled for Ardzvik and Leyli and their retinue to advance. They rode forward out of the shadow of the ancient stone church at a stately pace.
This encounter had been staged in the town’s center as a diplomatic compromise. The ruling family need not go as supplicants to the Darugha’s great golden tent, nor he with his men as conquerors to the gates of their castle. The Lady of Aragatsotn was a vassal, not a slave.
The interpreter, a handsome young man with Persian features, spoke toward the space between Ardzvik’s dark head and Leyli’s fair one. Good. Father Kristopor had obeyed her order to be deliberately vague as to which was the ruler and which was not. “His Eminence Yul Darugha thanks the Lady of Aragatsotn for her offer of the hospitality of her castle. However, it is his custom to sleep only within his personal tent.”
Ardzvik felt the gaze of Yul Darugha sweep over her, linger on her horse, then return to her face. She met his keen eyes, saw that he had not been deceived after all, lifted her chin proudly, and spoke not in Armenian but in the basic Turkic tongue most often used between tradesmen in the various countries of the lower Caucasus. “If Yul Darugha pleases, we would offer a feast in his honor tonight, to be held in the gardens of the castle.” It was well known by now that the nomadic Mongols were ill at ease confined within rigid walls.
With no pause for instructions the interpreter began to decline this invitation, too, as expected—the Governor had not been known to dine with any of such noble families as remained—but a rich, deep voice startled them all.
“Yul Darugha will be pleased to accept.”
Connie Wilkins, who also writes and edits as Sacchi Green, has published stories in a hip-high stack of erotic books and edited eight anthologies, including Lesbian Cowboys and Wild Girls, Wild Nights from Cleis Press, both winners of Lambda Literary Awards. A collection of her own work, A Ride to Remember, is published by Lethe Press. Find her at http://sacchi-green.blogspot.com and https://www.facebook.com/sacchi.green