Arilee checked her blonde locks in the mirror, and then turned to the half-elven woman at her side. "Thank you for coming, Cris."
"I have seen the change in Christi's letters as well. I share your concern and love," Crystania said, and gave a little bow of her head. "I pray you may aid her, as such emotional turmoil could prove troublesome for her pregnancy. If you are ready?"
Ari nodded and closed her eyes, having discovered that it did much to lessen the disconcerting effect of the spell that Crystania was weaving. The magic wrapped around her when Cris' beautiful voice reached a crescendo, and she felt as light as a feather for a moment. When the sensation faded, she opened her eyes and smiled. She was back within Blackhawk Hall once more.
Even as she stepped from the teleportation pattern, someone walked into the room. Sharon let out a laugh and bounded across the floor to gather her old charge in her arms. "Oh — it's good to see you, Arilee."
"It's good to see you," Ari agreed.
The matronly woman stepped back and held Arilee at arm's length. "I hear that you're turning the place upside down. We've had nobles sneaking in here to complain ever since you took over up there."
"I'm afraid they will have to endure," Ari said with a smile. "The people will not struggle to eat while those of noble blood bask in fineries, so long as it is my place to judge."
"And good for you." Sharon put an arm behind the Baroness. "We'll have to catch up later. Christi will never forgive me if I keep you any longer."
"Does she know I'm here?" Ari asked, having hoped to surprise her dear friend.
"I'm sure she knows someone is," Sharon answered, assuaging that worry. "She's in her room. Go on and surprise her."
"Has she found someone to replace me, yet?"
"Replace? Ha! She's got a girl to fetch and such, but there's no replacing you, Arilee."
Ari blushed and turned away a little, still unable to take such unabashed praise without feeling somewhat self-conscious.
Sharon laughed again as she playfully pushed Arilee out into the hall. "You never change — and don't you dare."
After offering a final smile and a wave, Sharon returned to her duties. Arilee looked down the familiar hall — still more familiar to her than her new home — and felt her heart soar from the memories.
She took a few steps forward and ran her fingers over the oak door of the bath room. Within, she'd faced and conquered two demons. One had its claws in her heart, and the other did its best to dig its claws into her flesh. It was Christi who had helped her fight both those demons, and now she was determined to return the favor.
She could almost hear the laughter of the gentle half-orc Kronk as she looked toward the stairs. Just beyond was the door to her old room. Though the door was closed, she could see every detail of the interior in her mind's eye — despite having spent more time in the ducal bedchamber.
The ornately carved double doors to that very room suddenly burst open.
The Duke stumbled out, and quickly ducked to the side. Almost immediately, a dagger slammed into the stone wall opposite the door with a loud clang. Arilee winced, now having a good idea of what had caused the sudden dark turn in the letters from the Duchess. Pregnant women seemed to develop a propensity for hurling the nearest object. When such a woman dwelled in Blackhawk Hall, it was twice as dangerous, as the nearest object was usually pointed, and very, very sharp.
Duke Cerebus rubbed his temples, his hand covering his eyes, and muttered under his breath as he walked to the stairs. Absorbed in his own inner turmoil, he failed to notice Arilee at the other end of the hall as he descended.
A steady stream of curses emerged from the now open doors.
Arilee approached, doubting that waiting would improve Christi's mood. When she reached the doorway, she wisely paused before stepping into the portal and called out "Knock, knock."
"Fucking gutter..." Christi's curses continued for a moment, and then ceased in a gasp. "Ari?"
Stepping into the doorway, Arilee smiled, and bent to pick up the dagger lying at her feet. When the Duchess planted her hands on the feather-stuffed mattress in apparent preparation to rise, Ari chided, "No, no, no, no," and hurried into the room. She closed the door behind her, and deposited the dagger on a nearby table, which was stacked high with various documents.
Christi sat back against the stout walnut headboard again, wearing a look of relief. Then she groaned and laid her hands on her very pregnant tummy.
"Oh, you must be miserable," Ari said in sympathy, and then sat down next to the Duchess on the bed.
"Gods, I'm so glad to see you," Christi responded, and then held out her arms for a hug.
Ari pressed her cheek against Christi's and slipped an arm behind the woman's back. The Duchess' tummy prevented more of an embrace for that. "I've missed you, too."
"Miserable doesn't even begin to describe it," The Duchess said, her voice weary. "I thought you couldn't get away?"
"I probably shouldn't have, but I knew that there was something wrong that you weren't mentioning in your letters. What happened?"
"It's been getting worse for a while. We can't work out our frustrations with each other down in the courtyard, so we're taking them out on each other with spite. I managed to get over it at first, but now I haven't had sex in a month..." Christi's voice steadily rose with every word that followed. "And I'm about to lose my mind!"
The first was bad enough, as the key to the unique relationship between the Duke and Duchess was their ability to engage each other in combat, and walk away afterwards with any disagreement settled in their minds. The last surely had to be devastating, as Christi had a deep sexual appetite. Ari doubted that the Duchess had regularly gone a day without sex, let alone a month.
"Has he lost interest?" Arilee asked.
Christi snorted. "Gods, no. All he does is stare at my tits, and I'm about to kill him over it. I don't need him to remind me about how huge these things are." She cupped the heavy globes as she finished, and then let them fall.
Ari found that she had a hard time keeping her eyes off of them as well.
The Duchess sighed, shook her head, and patted her tummy. "It's this. I can't even find a comfortable position to sleep, let alone fuck. My pussy has more hair on it than my head, because I can't even see it to trim the mess. I can't get there because I'm uncomfortable, and he's afraid of hurting the baby, and..."
While her friend sucked in a shuddering breath, unable to continue, Arilee felt her heart break. Christi's eyes were misting with unshed tears, something that Ari thought that she would never see from the tough-as-nails Duchess.
"We're going to fix this," Arilee declared, her voice full of confidence and conviction.
"H-how?" Christi asked, fighting back a sob.
"First things first. You're going to have a nice long bath, and I'm going to help you with that over-abundance of hair."
Christi sighed in relief. "Oh, thank you. The bath is one of the few places that I can actually get comfortable for a while."
"All the better," Ari said, and offered a wide smile. "I'll go find Kronk, and get everything ready. You just relax as much as you can."
"Bring me my dagger back, in case Cerebus is dumb enough to come back in here. The ass had the nerve to come in complaining about some stupid dispute between some herb peddler and a potion brewer."
Arilee crossed the room and retrieved the dagger, though she had little doubt that several more were well within the Duchess' reach, even with the limited mobility of her condition. "I don't think that sticking him with a knife is going to solve anything."
"It might make me feel better for a few seconds. Besides, if I actually wanted to hit him, he'd already be stuck."
Knowing Christi's deadly aim, Arilee had no reason to dispute that claim.
"Try not to skewer anyone while I'm gone," Ari said, and felt heartened that the remark brought a smile to Christi's face.
Yet another familiar sight greeted Arilee when she stepped back out into the hall. The dusky-skinned wizard Ashtar approached, his eyes and teeth both shining in brilliant white as he smiled.
"Glad I am to be seeing you, Arilee. Much good you must already be doing, if the cursing and crashing has already stopped."
Arilee had a sudden flash of inspiration, and prayed that Ashtar might be able to help her follow up on it. "I need to find Kronk to draw a bath, but I wonder if you could do me a favor?"
"If being within my power it is, yours it shall be. Doubly shall you have my help, if helping our dear friend it will, as I am suspecting."
A nod indicated that Ashtar had guessed correctly. "I'll come see you in your room as soon as I find Kronk."
"Waiting will I be," Ashtar responded, and then bowed his head before turning back to the room always set aside for him in the Hall.
Arilee hurried for the stairs as soon as the wizard turned.
The door to the bath opened, and Arilee hastily secreted a seashell amulet beneath a washcloth on the edge of the bathing pool.
"Here we are, Milady," Kronk rumbled, easily supporting the Duchess on one muscled arm, while she held onto his neck for balance.
Christi grinned and leaned over to suckle his earlobe for a moment. Then she swirled the tip of her tongue around the circumference of his ear, making the hulking half-orc shiver.
"That's not fair," Kronk pouted as he lowered his passenger to the floor.
Christi laughed, the sound cut off by a groan as she laid a hand over her tummy.
"Thank you, Kronk," Arilee said as she went to help support her very pregnant friend.
"Welcome," Kronk responded, and then left the room, closing the door securely behind him.
As Christi was wearing loose clothing with easily accessible ties — or horrible, ugly sacks, as she called them — undressing her for the bath took only a few seconds. Far from finding her unattractive, as the Duchess so often expressed feeling in her letters, Ari could barely contain her desire for the dark-haired beauty. Christi only looked all the more delicious with the glow of motherhood about her.
The Duke had ordered new steps that didn't have such a steep grade for the tub as well, making the climb less of a chore for his wife. With Ari's assistance, Christi sank into the steaming water and let out a moan of relief.
The Duchess relaxed in the water, and Arilee turned to the task of removing her own clothing. She still wore a rather ornate gown, as she hadn't bothered to change after holding court, when Crystania arrived to transport her to the Hall.
Christi opened her eyes when Arilee took her first step into the water. "Oh — now you're teasing me."
Suspecting that saying what she truly felt would only feel like mockery to her uncharacteristically self-conscious friend, Ari held back the words of desire on the tip of her tongue.
Her painfully stiff nipples likely spoke to the truth, anyway.
"Now, let's do something about that thicket," Ari said, and reached for the scissors perched on the rune-covered wooden lip of the bathing pool. She let out a little moan when Christi's fingers stroked her taut bottom.
The look in Christi's eyes certainly said that she had something far different in mind from trimming the wild hairs between her legs, but resignation crept into her features a moment later. Inability to reach orgasm due to her difficult condition made her hesitant to give in to her desire. "Let me scoot over to a higher step."
"No, you're more comfortable with your tummy in the water. It may take a little longer, but you're fine where you are."
"Just shave it bare. Cerebus will have to get over it." She let out a mixture of a groan and a sigh. "If he even sees it before it grows back..."
Ari had every intention of making sure that he did far more than see it.
"I learned a new spell," Ari began, keeping up a conversation while she worked against the depth of the lapping water confusing her eyes, to trim the dark curls between Christi's legs.
Arilee did most of the talking, as Christi had little energy to do anything at the late stage of her pregnancy. The Duchess was more than happy to listen — living vicariously through her friend.
Once Ari determined that she'd done all that she could with the scissors, she reached for the razor. Though the smile that graced Christi's face was a little sad and longing, Arilee continued to relate some of the more interesting things going on in her new life. Any smile was a good one, in her eyes.
The shaving proved even more difficult, and Ari actually had to hold her breath to dip her head beneath the water several times. She had an alternative, but wanted to save that surprise.
Perseverance won the battle, and Ari said, "Float up a little, so I can make sure that I didn't miss anything."
Christi put her hands beneath her, onto the impossibly smooth wooden step, and pushed so that the water buoyed her toward the surface. Ari supported her friend's knee in the crook of her arm, and looked for any stray hairs. When she didn't see any, she finally surrendered to the arousal that had built inside her, and stroked her fingers over the Duchess' smooth nether lips.
"Oh, Ari," Christi quietly exclaimed, and then let out an almost pained whimper. Now too desperate with need to worry about her recent inability to climax, she started trying to scoot back onto a higher step, so that she could lift her pussy above the water.
"You'll be too uncomfortable," Ari observed as she put down the razor and picked up the seashell amulet that Ashtar had provided.
"I don't care. I need you," Christi argued.
"I need you, too," Arilee agreed, as she slipped on the amulet and let it settle between her breasts. Before Christi could say anything more, Ari followed Ashtar's suggestion, took a deep breath, and dunked her head beneath the water. Only complete trust in the magic allowed her to take the next step — though she still felt almost mind-numbing terror as she considered what she must do.
She let her breath out in a column of bubbles, and breathed in.
The magic of the amulet worked even better than she had anticipated. Though water now filled her lungs instead of air, she felt absolutely nothing different. She knew that Christi would panic in short order, not knowing the power of the charm, and so she moved between the Duchess' legs, to give her something far more pleasant to think about.
The moan that rumbled in Ari's throat as her tongue delved between Christi's folds made almost no sound, and she could hear nothing of the Duchess' loud gasp. Arilee slipped her fingers beneath her friend's bottom, to lift her slightly up from the step, and then truly loosed her tongue.
The water seemed to have no ability to dilute the sweet taste of Christi's juices, which Arilee hadn't savored in far too long. Her duties as the new Baroness of Dalebord had consumed her, leaving her with little time to take pleasure alone in her bed, let alone with anyone else. She had gone far longer than a month without knowing the touch of a lover.
Christi writhed and twitched under the slippery caress of Ari's tongue. The Baroness took her time, letting the tip of her tongue roam all over her friend's needy, newly shaven sex. Her hair floated in a golden halo around her, caressing Christi's thighs, adding to the sensations.
Arilee pressed her tongue deep whenever desire overwhelmed her, awakening her senses with even stronger tastes of Christi's nectar. She knew her lover's body as well as her own, and gave the Duchess more, exactly when she needed it. Her tongue steadily slipped more often to the swollen bud at the apex of Christi's nether lips, ever stoking her friend's flames of passion higher.
Though she couldn't hear them, Ari could imagine the gasps and moans that were indeed emerging from Christi above the lapping surface of the water. One of Ari's hands left the Duchess' taut bottom, and two fingers slipped into her tight embrace. Christi stiffened, and trembled. Arilee knew that her friend now teetered on the edge. With another silent moan, she suckled Christi's hood between her lips.
Christi's trembling intensified as Ari massaged the pearl with her lips, and tickled it with flicks of her tongue. Soon the trembling was a quake, and then Christi lurched, an orgasm taking control of her body.
Arilee's heart soared as her lover went into throes of passion. She could actually hear a distant, muffled hint of the loud scream of release that burst from the Duchess' lips. Her fingers and tongue changed positions, letting Ari stab her tongue in deep for the reward of Christi's cream, while her fingers rubbed her lover's throbbing clit.
She was still eager for more when a weak push from the Duchess' right hand silently begged for reprieve.
Ari sat back, smiling beneath the water, and mentally prepared for what was to come. She breathed out, emptying her lungs as much as possible, and then popped to the surface for a breath of air. As Ashtar had warned, a short fit of coughing shook her, but she recovered within a few breaths.
Christi floated in the water, quivering and squeezing her breasts. She gasped for every breath, and then immediately released each one in a whimper. The Duchess forced her tightly closed eyes open after a few attempts, and at last took a deep breath that emerged as a quavering moan. "Oh. I ... I need ... Needed that."
"Me too," Ari said with a grin, and pushed with her arms to float over for a kiss from her lover's trembling lips.
"T-that was a ... A sneaky trick," Christi chided, though the beatific smile on her face belied her words. The tender caress of her hand over Ari's breasts made the blonde Baroness join her in quivering.
"A-ashtar?" Christi guessed.
Ari giggled and nodded her head. "He must have felt as if his face was on fire, he blushed so much." She cuddled up next to Christi in the water. "You said that the bath was one of the few places where you felt comfortable, and that you couldn't get there because you were always uncomfortable, so..."
"It worked." Christi let out a long, low moan, her eyes closing for a few seconds. "Oh gods, did it work."
"You should have told me," Ari said before kissing Christi on the cheek. "You wouldn't have had to suffer so long."
The Duchess let out a sharp, sensual growl that sounded almost like a bark. "I know, but it was almost worth letting that build up." Then, she gasped and snapped a hand to her stomach. "I don't think somebody is quite as happy about all the shaking and fluttering that's going on in there, though."
"Like a mule. Here, feel."
Ari let Christi guide her hand, and a few seconds later, she felt a sharp thump. She laughed and said, "He has his mommy's kick."
"And a fondness for doing it to my bladder. I've pissed myself twice when the little bugger did that."
"It won't be long now."
"Not soon enough. I'm starting to get worried."
"You're just going a bit long. It happens. He's just not quite ready to come see us yet. Everything will be fine." Ari chose that moment to steal a long, soft, but passionate kiss. Christi's right hand immediately found Ari's thigh.
When their lips parted, Christi said, "There's something else that I haven't had in a long time."
A high-pitched moan of anticipation accompanied Christi's fingers slipping to Ari's nether lips.
"I thought about that, too," Arilee revealed, once she caught her breath — arousal surging within her. A slight push from her legs sent her drifting toward the center of the bath on her back. Once she was as flat as possible in the water, she summoned up another power of her borrowed amulet.
Ari bobbed to the surface, floating on her back like a boat.
Christi needed no explanation that the magic was meant to allow her to remain buoyed by the water, and thus comfortable. She also needed no encouragement. When she grabbed Arilee's ankle with a hungry, sexy growl, the blonde Baroness bent her knees, using the anchor to draw her toward Christi's waiting mouth.
"Ah! Oh!" Ari cried out, unprepared for the intensity of her lover's appetite.
Christi's stiff tongue seemed to reach far deeper than Ari remembered, swirling over her walls to gather up the abundant wetness. The Duchess' lips and tongue felt as if they were everywhere at the same time, the vibrations from her moans concentrating in Ari's clit.
A lurch of Arilee's hips prompted Christi to curl her fingers around the blonde's thighs and dig in. Held tight in her lover's grasp, Ari squealed in delight, her entire body alive with pleasure. All the while, when she could keep her own eyes open, Ari could see Christi's eyes looking up at her, filled with a mixture of love and lust.
Arilee grabbed her breasts, squeezing with far more strength than she usually found pleasurable. She pinched the stiff pink tips, again matching the ardor of the dark-haired beauty between her legs. Though the Duchess kept her hips from doing more than wiggling, Ari's upper body was not so restrained. The Baroness writhed atop the water, often dipping into the magically unbreakable surface deep enough to see the water rising up beside her face.
The sensation started as warmth, and then changed to an itch that grew stronger by the second. Arilee whimpered as her building orgasm swelled to near painful intensity. Christi kept up the pressure with her fast-moving tongue, holding her blonde friend on the edge of ecstasy. After long, torturous seconds, Ari came.
A cry that combined a scream and a moan erupted from Arilee's lips, rising and falling in pitch with the shockwaves wracking her body. Her thighs tightened around Christi's head, and her fingers twined into the Duchess' dark locks.
"Mmm — oh yeah," Christi moaned when Ari's muscles relaxed. She continued to moan as she returned to the sweet, quivering treat before her.
Though the waves of bliss traveling through her body lasted for minutes, Ari still wasn't ready for them to end when her orgasm at last waned. Her sigh somehow managed to convey both disappointment and contentment at the same time when Christi gave her folds a final kiss.
"I ... I don't think that I realized how badly I needed that," Ari remarked in languid tones.
The Duchess licked her lips and said, "You're lucky. I knew damn well how badly I needed it."
Ari chuckled, and summoned up enough presence of mind to release the magic of the shell between her breasts. Her legs sank down into the water once more, and she'd barely settled upright when Christi swooped in for a kiss.
The sweet kiss — made all the sweeter by her own juices on Christi's lips — lasted for some time. When their lips parted, Ari's curled up into a mischievous smile.
Christi's eyebrows arched upward, her expression revealing that she knew her friend was up to something.
Arilee revealed nothing, and instead climbed the steps of the bath. Rivulets of water poured down her body as she looked over her shoulder to see Christi admiring her bare backside. She continued down the stairs to the floor, and a knock sounded on the door.
Perfect, Ari thought, doubting that Sharon's timing could have been more impeccable. "Come in," she called while walking toward the door.
The Duke looked wary at first, then surprised and shocked. Only trust in Sharon's word that she would keep anyone else out of the hall allowed Arilee to walk toward Mindblind, water still dripping down her nude body.
Ari giggled and instructed, "Close the door," when he showed no sign of remembering that it was open. Even as he turned to do so, she reached him and jerked the tail of his shirt free of his pants. "And get undressed," she added.
The Duke cleared his throat and began, "When did you get..."
"Shush. Clothes. Off. Now."