‘Mmmm. That’s nice, biala.’
Chuckling, Grinda continued to drag her fingers through his hair. It was so thick, much thicker than hers. And so coarse! Though that might have more to do with the fact he never brushed it. She loved it either way.
They had stopped for lunch and the sun sat high in the sky, glinting brightly. It almost made his hair gleam a deep red, his skin too. She was kneeling in soft grass behind him, his smooth broad back, his hard shoulders beneath her hands. No more scars. No more pain. She massaged him a moment, trying to dig in her knuckles where she knew his knots lay, but it was useless. His muscles were just too big. She usually had to walk on him, digging in her heels.
She kissed the nape of his neck and she smiled as he shivered. His hair was starting to shine now, her fingers moving smoothly through his locks. Back at Quay she had never had anyone she could braid hair with: no sister or friend who wasn’t busy; and her mother had scoffed at the thought. Never in her wildest dreams would she think that she would be playing with the hair of her barbarian lover.
Hair that gleamed as beautiful as any maiden’s.
Grinda chuckled again.
‘What are you laughing at?’
‘Nothing.’ She raised herself higher on her knees as she began on his fringe, pulling it into a tight plait.
‘Don’t make me look too pretty,’ he said, only half-jokingly. ‘If we meet anyone on our way, I need to be taken seriously.’
‘Isn’t that a good thing? Isn’t that what you’ve always said to me? That it’s best for your enemy to underestimate you?’
‘For a woman, yes, but not for a man.’
She continued, his hair weaving easily through her fingers. Then she was done. Two long braids on either side. He certainly looked pretty from the back.
‘All right. Turn around.’
He did. Grinda pursed her lips, trying not to laugh. He looked at her, twisted his mouth, then looked down at his braids which he fondled between his thick, strong fingers. Grinda couldn’t take it anymore. Slapping a hand to her mouth, she burst out laughing.
Mock kept his face straight but his eyes were shining.
She squealed as he tackled her, pinning her to the ground between his thighs, his hands gripping her wrists. She squealed again, turning away as he began flicking her in the face with his braids.
‘Stop!’ she screamed with laughter. ‘They hurt!’
He laughed, then pressed his mouth to hers. She closed her eyes, quiet, as he stretched out on top of her, as she sucked at his tongue. Then she opened them again and the laughter returned.
She spluttered against his lips. ‘St-st-stop! I can’t do it. You look funny.’
He tugged at his right braid. ‘Mmmm. I don’t know. They’re growing on me. Maybe you could do my beard too.’
Leaning over, he blew his lips against her neck. She thrust him away with a snort, throwing him onto his back. He stretched out under the sun. His kinta had hoisted right up, revealing the wrinkled bottom of his balls. Now it was Grinda who was straddling him. Mock gripped her hips, grinning up at her, as she began to unwind his braids.
It seemed to take forever, and by the time she was done, her mouth was all over his mouth, his jaw, his throat. The sun was burning against her head and the back of her neck but she couldn’t care. She had Mock right where she wanted him.
She reached beneath his kinta, smoothing her hand up his hardened length. Mock closed his eyes with a groan.
Afterwards, Mock lay spent beside her. She was breathing deeply, curled up against his chest, as he traced his fingers up and down her back. He would never forget how he felt the first time he had seen her bare back. How beautiful it had been. She had been trembling against him, fearful and hateful. He still couldn’t believe how far they had come. How far he had come since his days as Mock the Merciless. Leader of his raiding brothers, murderer, fiend and rapist.
Just look at him now.
Far from filling him with regret, it made his heart swell. Slowly, Mock ran his hand up along the length of her naked body. She was so soft. It amazed him how he had once thought to kill her.
Careful not to wake her, he kissed her gently on the head, then eased out of her arms. She murmured in her sleep, curling in a ball in the cold. Mock fetched a couple of pelts and laid them over her.
The sun had set hours before and the moon sat like a giant orb high in the sky. It was so bright its light engulfed the twinkling of the stars. It turned the landscape white and blazed against Winter’s coat. The horse almost gleamed.
Standing beside the old beast, Mock slung his arm over his neck. They had made camp at the top of a hill, and the forest spread out below them in an ocean of rippling leaves. The sight of it made his heart soar. He couldn’t be further away from the cold, hard cells of Fairmont. His back itched as he remembered the old tortures. On the surface the scars had healed but he still bore their marks deep beneath.
Not even the Mother could heal those.
His stomach twisted. How long before all this would be gone—he couldn’t predict. And what about his people? Every generation the Quarthi were forced to retreat further and further. How long before they were backed up against the ocean, with nowhere else to go?
It was only a matter of time. The end was drawing near.
He looked back at Grinda, and his dark thoughts dispersed. Whatever may come, he would enjoy the time he had. There was no point in agonising over the future. Not when there was so much yet to be enjoyed.
He returned. Lifting the pelts, he eased back in beside her. She stirred, her eyes opened a crack.
‘Sorry,’ he whispered, kissing her on the lips.
Grinda smiled, kissing him lightly back. ‘You can wake me any time, bial.’ Her eyes opened wider. She touched his cheek. ‘You’re sad.’
He smiled. ‘Just thinking.’
‘Then stop thinking.’
She kissed him again. This time passionately. Mock opened his mouth, letting her in. They were quiet a long time. A bird called from the branches of a nearby tree. Winter snorted. The breeze made the grass rustle.
But soon all that disappeared and all he heard were Grinda’s panting breaths, her little grunts, a wet sucking as he thrust into her. She gave a little cry. He grunted. A gush. Warmth. Wetness. His heart pounding hard in his chest.
An empty mind. A swollen heart. And a pair of blue eyes that filled the night even more brightly than the blazing moon.
‘Mock,’ she whispered.
‘Grinda,’ he murmured.
They pressed their cheeks together, arms wrapped around each other so tightly there was no space between them. Their hearts pounded. They breathed each other’s breaths. She gave a surprised grunt as he moved inside her. He pushed deeper, harder, wanting to feel her, to know her.
Inside as well as out.
‘Still sad?’ Grinda murmured in his ear.
Mock threaded his fingers through her hair, enjoying how the moonlight made it glimmer and gleam. ‘Was I sad?’
Grinda smiled. Mock smiled. He kissed her jaw, then her throat, before slumping against her with a sigh.
Sad. Happy. Content. Sometimes it was hard to tell the difference.