Chapter 3: Sinful Transgressions

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The Split Oak was a respectable, two-story establishment located on the town square. The tavern was a popular roost for Carneddei soldiers and foreign mercenaries to drown their sorrows while exchanging embellishments of their prowess with swords—both those sheathed in their scabbards and those in their trousers. On this festive eve, the inn's taproom was filled to capacity, brimming with so many patrons that they were sitting in the open casements, huddling in crowded corridors, and milling about in the doorways.

    Trench frowned as he thoughtfully made his way up the wooden staircase toward the congested entrance. Covered in road dust and smelling of blood, the Ardanian wanted little more than to bathe, even in cold water, a warm down bed, and an even warmer companion. But if the return of the Carneddei army and the influx of refugees had pressed the whores into plying their trade in back alleys and graveyards, finding a room would be nigh impossible.

    So improvise like you always do, he thought, which meant passing the night in a box stall with his mare Savrinne. She was extraordinarily clean, tidier than most humans, defecating and urinating in one corner of her stall as if she were a cat hiding her presence. It was an unusual trait for a horse bred and raised on the Steppes, who pissed and shit where they pleased. It was yet another of a long list of  eccentricities that endeared her to him. If not for the mare's vile temperament and lack of thumbs, she'd have made a fine wife.

    Weaving between tables and bodies, Trench made his way through the crowded front room. Unlike other patrons, he did not have to twist and slither like a lost child. The Carneddei soldiers knew him well enough to give him a wide berth. On the bloody fields of Korvra, he had delivered on the reputation of the Ardanian Horse-Lords, real and imagined, casting an aura of awe among the soldiers. Though centuries-old allies, the Carneddei knew very little about the nomadic horsemen, except through bard tales and legend.

    Despite their trepidation, this did not stop them from being attracted to him like moths to an open flame, even if it meant getting their wings singed. During the war, Trench found no shortage of sword arms willing to follow him, much to the chagrin of the appointed leaders.

    As he made his way to the rear of the taproom, the soldiers paid less and less attention to him and focused more on the distraction in a back alcove. Trench grinned. He recognized the gentle strumming of Belphenor's mandolin as well as the black silhouette of Ullä, who was dancing on top of a small table. The Kasqlis archer seductively arced her lithe back, bending backwards in a feat of balance that had the men slack jawed as they watched. Her arms and fingers undulating in time to the music, she slowly pulled herself back into an upright position, gyrating her wide hips suggestively from side to side. It was if Callid, the Fertile Mother, goddess of lust had descended into their midst.

    Trench's grin widened. With wanton mischief on his mind, he walked closer, into a proximity the fearful Carneddei would not venture, and rubbed his hands against the back of her thighs. The tight, form-fitting armor she wore moved with her, and he could feel the taut muscles of her legs moving beneath his fingers.

    "Like what you see?" she asked, pivoting her crotch back and forth in front of his face.

    "A great deal."

    Impetuously, she leaped from the table and into Trench's arms as if she meant to devour him whole. Kissing him passionately, she thrust her tongue into his mouth with a moan, her body stiffening in passion.

    Trench waited patiently. While the archer was an ardent lover, she possessed a diabolical bloodlust both on the battlefield and for anyone who laid with her. It came as no surprise when she nipped the corner of his lip and drew blood. Braced for it, he barely reacted. "How's the flavor?"

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