Reader's Advisory: Warriors of Strathan contains explicit sex and violence. Kell, the hero in this story, lives in a different time and culture. His world is harsh and without compassion. It does not conform to current sensibilities, ideals, or laws. This prologue contains a sex scene with dubious consent.
Warriors of Strathan - Prologue
Iberian Peninsula, 71 BC.
Sitting on his gray war horse, Kellus Aquitar watched from a hill while Roman soldiers destroyed a seaside village. The village inhabitants had been foolish to oppose the army sent against them. Now the stench of smoke and blood thickened the sweltering afternoon air.
Kell kept his cavalry out of the fray. They waited in loose formation behind him, delaying their advance on Kell’s order. The Roman infantry did not need cavalry to annihilate this tiny community of traders and fishermen.
The slaughter was near over, the meager populace killed or rounded up with humiliating ease. Most of the buildings had been burned to the ground. Any villagers who survived would be slaves now to the Republic.
In a fashion, no less than Kell. Only his skills in battle gave him position and allowed him a small measure of autonomy. He was Celt, different in blood and design from the Roman soldiers he was forced to align with.
Kell wore form-fitting leather bracae and boots, with leather chest armor and thick leather bands on his sword arm. His garb proclaimed him auxiliary—a dangerous and unpredictable breed, which both Rome and her enemies knew through bitter experience.
After signaling for his men to stay, Kell rode down the hill to the edge of town. Only a few residents—those without hope or reason—continued to oppose the soldiers.
A young male fought valiantly against two centurions. Nearby, a young woman cowered against one of the remaining dwellings. Both she and the male wore slave collars.
The Romans toyed with their prey.
Kell urged his gray forward and the soldiers paused when he drew near. They did not accept him as one of their own, but they feared him and did not raise challenge.
Meeting Kell’s eyes, the male slave wavered a moment, his face red with rebellion. Then he yelled over his shoulder to the girl, “Run, Mara, run.”
Before she could consider it, Kell swung down beside her and clamped his hand on her arm. “Do not think to, Mara. It will go worse for you.”
She glanced up, and something in his gaze convinced her it would be useless to fight. Trapped and outnumbered, the male slave saw it too. Dropping to his knees, he flung the sword down and immediately the soldiers seized him.
“Kell!” A Roman officer came towards them across the yard. “You seem to have found the only jewel in this stink hole.”
Kell kept his tone flat, if not deferential. “Marcus, you have an eye for pretty women—” Kell’s words broke off when the rebellious male slave grabbed a dagger from the soldier who handled him. The slave came at Kell, but the soldiers blocked his advance. Seeing that he could not reach Kell, he lifted the blade, intent to throw it.
Kell called to the officer who still approached, walking straight into harm’s way. “Marcus, beware!”
The slave hurled the dagger, and too late, Marcus turned—into the blade’s path, not from it—and the point meant for Kell found purchase in the flesh of the officer’s upper arm.
The man crumbled and Kell swore, dragging the slave girl behind him to the fallen tribune. He pushed the girl to her knees and then crouched down, pulling the dagger from the man’s arm. “Marcus, why did you not move?”
The injured Marcus smiled through gritted teeth. “Foolish, I know, but I could not see my finest warrior struck down by an errant slave.” He turned watery blue eyes on the girl. “And what if this pretty piece had been hurt? It would have spoiled my sport, eh, Kell?”
While the medicus tended Marcus, Kell set about organizing both auxiliary and Roman alike. He gave orders for the men to make camp and earned their gratitude by instructing that any surplus wine to be distributed.
As expected, when Kell returned to deal with the wounded tribune, the man disdained use of his own tent and commandeered the best house left standing. Conveniently, its previous owner, the wine merchant, had been among the first to die.
As slaves prepared the bed, and a junior officer ensured the girl, Mara, was placed in it, Kell and Marcus consumed substantial amounts of the merchant’s private vintage. Marcus drank to numb the pain in his bandaged arm and Kell drank to numb the regret which followed him from each battle.
Usually in the aftermath, Kell preferred his own company, often finding a wineskin and retiring to his tent, hoping for some peace before the inevitable brawling began. Although ordered to use only willing girls, the men sometimes coupled with the unwilling too. Kell could prevent most of it with the soldiers under his command but the Romans raped without remorse.
Tonight, weary and drunk, even Kell contemplated the diversion of feminine flesh.
Since he did not favor the camp followers, two months had passed since he had taken pleasure with a woman. He knew Marcus would appropriate the comely slave girl, and Kell—unwilling to share a female or have another present while he used her—would find his own bed.
Perhaps for the best. He needed sleep more than sex. On constant campaign, he wearied of blood and death, and of a senseless existence fighting for a cause not his own. He hated being Rome’s puppet. Yet as long as he fought, and won, the Republic left his parents and sister in peace. So he continued to win.
Tonight, though, he wanted to forget.
When Marcus was ready to retire, Kell shouldered the tribune’s almost dead weight through the wine merchant’s shop and into the living quarters at the back of the house.
Once inside the bedroom, Marcus laughed drunkenly at the sight which greeted them. He lurched toward the black-haired slave girl tied to the bed. “Kell, the gods have gifted us. She is a pretty morsel.”
Kell laid the wounded Marcus on one side of the woman and because there was nowhere else, walked around the bed and sat himself on the other. He glanced at Marcus and saw the officer was grinning, yet did not move to the slave. “Marcus, do think to use this woman?”
“My arm yet pains me but I anticipate the pleasure. You have my leave to take her first. I would enjoy seeing you bring her to passion, Kell. It is rumored all women depart your bed with a smile on their lips. I would know your methods.”
“Not all smile, Marcus.”
“Did you know you are called Kell Deceres? Like the strongest of Roman ships. The men say you are the biggest force between a woman’s thighs. I envy you.”
“Marcus, the wine addles your brain.” Kell relaxed back on the soft mattress beneath him, groaning at luxury of it.
Marcus persisted towards his aims. “I cannot move but I can watch. Do this for me, Kell. I saved your life this day.”
Kell knew he would have deflected the blade if Marcus had not been in its path, yet Marcus had shielded him, however unwittingly, and it was a debt. If the balance could be repaid by bedding this slave for Marcus’ pleasure, Kell was just drunk enough to tamp down his aversion at having the tribune present while he did so.
He needed the oblivion a female could offer, but still he hesitated.
Marcus coaxed him further. “I know you do not favor another male in your bed, but I swear I will not interfere. I can scarce raise my head and have no hope for my cock, even with this beauty as lure. Rut on her, Kell. I will find diversion from it—as will you, I think.”
Kell looked over at the woman. Her head was turned to him, her violet eyes bright with trepidation. He remembered her name. “Where are you from, Mara?”
“Was that your husband, who interfered with your capture?”
Kell was thankful the bloody heap the Roman’s had left, was not someone dear to her. Hatred and vengeance made poor bedmates and increased the odds of receiving a blade in your ribs.
“Have you always been slave?”
“My father sold me years ago.”
Kell shook his head, repulsed by the deed, wondering how someone could sell his own flesh to this destiny. He sat up and drank a deep draught of wine before pulling off his tunic and boots. Standing, he unlaced his bracae and lay down again, bracing himself on one elbow to study her.
He looked to her hands, tied above her. “Will you fight me?”
She swallowed and shook her head. “No, Master.” She studied his eyes, his mouth. “I am willing.”
Reaching up, he loosed the rope binding her but she left her hands where they were, passive to his needs. He pulled her body a few inches closer to his side of the bed and bent one of her knees open. Rising over her, he fit himself into the cradle of her thighs and focused on her face.
He stroked her ripe breasts and leaned in to kiss her lips. Her mouth was pliant and opened sweetly when his tongue pushed inside. Aware that Marcus had turned his head and watched from an arm’s length away, Kell’s cock was slow to respond.
Finally, he felt himself harden enough and reached down to guide his phallus into her young sheath. She was wet but tight around his shaft, so he pressed forward slowly. Even so, she hissed between her teeth and her hips flinched back on the mattress.
“Relax your muscles, Mara, open for me.”
“You are big, master.” Her hands clutched at his shoulders.
He paused, letting her adjust. “Your body will ease. Spread your legs.”
She tried to accommodate him and he thrust deeper still, taking her mouth and breathing in her soft cry when he hilted inside her. Half numb from all the wine, his strokes were long and languid, the rise to satisfaction protracted.
Soon, the lovely slave moaned with pleasure, moving under him, urgent for fulfillment. He kept at her, rocking his body to advantage, until she began to quake. She clung to his waist; her muscles rigid, her cunt pulsing around his cock. Only then did he allow his passion free rein. Thrusting deep, he drove small chuffs of air from her lungs with each determined stroke.
When she keened a second climax, he let his body release and spent himself inside her, draining himself in a much needed way. She shuttered at the end and he brushed a light kiss to her lips to show his gratitude for the pleasure she had given him.
Marcus still watched, Kell noted it from the corner of his eye as he rolled from the slave. He let sleep crowd his brain, unwilling to dwell on it.
Some men found it arousing to share the favors of a woman but Kell did not. He wanted a woman and he wanted her all to himself.
Distantly, he heard Marcus’ manipulative voice. “Ah, Kell, that was inspiring. I think I will keep this slave. You could use her first and then send her to my bed. I would like such an arrangement. Of course, my wife must never suspect … but she will not, if the slave appeared to be yours. If you do this for me, your family in Gaul could benefit, if not…”
Kell did not listen. Spent and exhausted, his eyelids felt too heavy and he let himself sleep.
The next morning, he lifted his aching head from the pillow and surveyed his surroundings with gritty eyes. A dark haired woman laid next to him … the slave Mara, he remembered in a lucid rush. Her body faced him, her cheek resting by his shoulder. Her eyes were open, watching him. He rubbed her shoulder, knowing he would do what he could to ease her life as a Roman slave.
On the other side of the bed, Marcus slumbered with his good arm draped over the Cyprian’s hip.
Kell’s stomach churned, as much from the wine as from regret. He had bedded the female in front of another. It was akin to sharing the woman, and Kell had no taste for the practice. Only his debt to Marcus, coupled with an excess of wine and sexual need had dulled his scruples enough to engage in last night’s performance. He fought and fucked like a monkey on a chain for Rome’s entertainment—never given the dignity of having, coupling, or fighting for a woman of his own. He existed as a pawn and slave in the battlefield, even in his bed.
Much of his life veered outside his control, but in this he remained resolute. He vowed he would never share a woman with another man.