CHOOSING A MATE - In the first beast war, long before the current Warrior histories record, the gods embodied the first Warriors with the gods' own powers. When Reg destroys Ori in a mad bid to claim the mother goddess as his own, the distraught young woman is left to choose another mate from among the remaining Warriors. She knows them all by face and cannot choose. There is only one thing left a man believes will matter.
STARTING A WAR - "The mother is drawn to two and calls for them both. The two fight to win her bed and heirs." When Oren and Piet are called before the Stone lord, Gatin, they believe they are to be given extra instruction. Instead, they find themselves faced with the blindfolded and half-naked Ragan. One of them will fall. The other will claim what is rightfully his, by the gods’ decree. Ragan.
“You know why this is necessary,” Syth prodded her.
Ani nodded miserably. Their Goddess Mother had proclaimed that the war could only end with children from her line. The gods had named her Raga, Mother of Peace and vessel of the Stone Goddess. Though both of the males originally chosen for her had been lost to them, producing children was essential to that end.
If only that didn’t mean bedding with a man not Goddess-crafted for her, she might not be so nervous about it. As it was, Ani knew that she would never have happiness in her life.
“Are you prepared to do this, Ani?” her brother asked.
She peeked up at him, reassured by the fact that he looked no happier with the situation than she was.
Syth stroked a hand along her cheek, hooking her long hair behind her ear. “If I could return Ori to you, I would. You know that, I hope.”
She swallowed a sob at the reminder, then nodded.
Ori had won the battle for her bed and had gifted her with a single, sweet kiss in promise of the mating to come. But that mating had never come to pass and, courtesy of Reg, never would.
“Ani, today or another day, this must happen,” Syth reminded her.
“Then it should be today.” She was glad to hear she sounded surer than she was about it.
Syth offered her a comforting hug and took her elbow in his hand, leading her down the corridor and to the chamber where their remaining numbers waited for her “pleasure” in choosing a mate.
There will be no pleasure. That was nearly a given.
Ani realized she was being peevish. Of course, there would probably be pleasure. Krieger were known for their sexual prowess. Whichever male she chose would do that, out of duty, if for no other reason.
But there will be no love. She’d been fated to love whichever of the two destined won her bed.
And she had loved Ori, much more than she had ever loved Reg. Ani pushed that thought away. Ori was the past. Whatever Krieger she chose was her future, love him or not.
She paused at the archway and took a calming breath. Syth offered a squeeze of her elbow in support.
He released her as she entered the chamber. It could not appear that he’d led her decision in any way.
Ani nearly turned and ran at the sight of them. She’d known this was coming, but she hadn’t been prepared for the reality of it.
The men showed no distress at her reaction. None of them commented on the step back she took before she managed to smooth her jangled nerves.
There was no instruction given. The Goddess Mother’s plan so fouled, there was no tradition for what was about to happen. No one had foreseen it to suggest where to progress from the ruins they’d been dealt. In the end, Syth had conferred with the Krieger remaining.
Only two possibilities had been advanced to her for a decision. Since it was Ani’s body and her children at stake, no one had argued that the ultimate choice should fall to her.
The first had consisted of Ani taking each of the men into her body in turn until she caught pregnant with a child...or two. Three... As many as she would be have proven willing to carry and from as many of the men as remained unprinted when she sought out males to fill her bed. Syth would have raised the children as his own, and none of the others would know who had truly sired them.
Beyond the horror for her of taking all the Krieger in turn, that possibility presented the very real possibility that all of the men would be driven mad by the idea that the child she bore was his own and she with it. She secretly believed it more likely that some would be driven mad and some not, further fragmenting their waning ranks.
The other was the only possible solution. Ani would choose from among the remaining men and take only that chosen man to her bed to sire her children.
Not that the plan was perfect. Ani was the first to admit that there were problems with it. If her chosen one printed on another woman, he would be forced to leave her or go mad in wanting the other. Beyond that, he would not be able to perform sexually with Ani if he was printing on another. If that happened, she would have to choose again and release her first male to his chosen.
There was little possibility that any of the remaining men would print on her. But, short of isolating her chosen from all the other women in the world, how could they avoid the problem?
She conceded that there was no way.
Though she’d stood immobile for so long, none of the men prompted her to continue with this farce. Syth had decreed that no one was to speak to her unless she spoke first and seemed to want an answer. There would be no coercion, no convincing her. There would be no appeals of Ani’s final choice. They would all accept it as law, as if the Goddess had chosen the man for her personally.
Still, approaching them took all her fortitude. Though she’d seen Syth nude while he bathed, she hadn’t seen another man in such a state. Now, she was faced with six of them, all more than double her size.
Ani wanted to look them in the eyes, but that wasn’t the point of this display. She knew their faces, and when Syth had asked, she hadn’t been able to simply choose one as more appealing than another that way.
To this moment, she wasn’t certain which of the men had suggested she choose the most appealing...package. She supposed it didn’t really matter who had suggested it. Since Ani had been unable to choose a favorite by face, she had to choose by some differing quality about them.
All of them were tall, broad men. All had thick, black hair that reached at least to their shoulders. All had dark eyes, ranging from deep blue to brown and even black. All had training scars of varying lengths and in varying places. There was only one thing left that would matter to a woman, according to the one who’d suggested this manner of choosing.
Choosing a mate by the cock that appeals to me most. I must be mad to have agreed to this.
But she had agreed to it.
That a given, Ani started at the closest man. His cock was as long as her hand and fingers combined...not so long that she worried about his depth harming her, but he was thick enough that she was afraid he might be an uncomfortable fit.
The next was slim and long. Too long. The urge to compare his length to that of her forearm was enough proof that Ani would shy from it when she had promised to embrace the one she chose. She moved on.
The third was of average length and girth, and Ani considered him a moment longer. She conceded that comfort was the only concern she had to worry about. Any of them would be an avid lover, passably talented, and produce the children the Goddess needed of them.
But I must consider them all. If any of them feel slighted, it could have catastrophic results.
She moved on, trying to push away the realization that all of them were hard for her inspection. Was it excitement that whoever she chose would get to bed with her? Was it just another battle to them?
The next was both long and thick. Not as long as the second but as thick as the first, easily. Ani started to move on, dismissing him that simply.
Not so simply. His cock jerked, slapping wetly against his belly, and she looked again. The slit in the head was beaded with clear fluid, and more of the same dotted his lightly-furred abdomen, where the head had struck. At her inspection, it jerked again.
She took a calming breath and moved on.
Focusing on the other cocks was difficult. Her gaze strayed to that one, again and again. Ani forced herself to consider them all. The fifth was the longest and thick, though not as thick as the one before. The sixth was less than a finger width longer than the first and narrow, as well.
She ranged the line again, not to compare dimensions but to compare their readiness. Only two of them had sacs that appeared hard and full, indicating—by her meager understanding—that they were aroused fully at the moment. Only the one was weeping fluids for her.
What did it mean? Had it been so long since he’d had a woman beneath him that he was in aching need of one?
The heat at her back meant Syth had drawn near. While he would not interfere, she was certain it was a gentle reminder that she was essentially baiting these men.
“I wish to consider...several further?” Ani hadn’t meant to make it a question. It shouldn’t have been. She was the one that would choose.
“Which?” Syth inquired. “And do you wish the others to leave?”
“Yes.” She was certain she wouldn’t be choosing several of them already. “They should leave.” At least then she would only be faced with three cocks and not six.
At her brother’s silence, Ani darkened. She had to name the three that would stay, and that meant doing so by connecting faces to the parts she’d been examining so closely. For the rest of my days, I will know what every Krieger’s cock looks like. It was mortifying.
Her face burning in embarrassment, she looked up.
The third one was Len. His name meant mountain, but he was the one of average proportions.
Pol was the fifth; though his dimensions frightened her, his sac was tight and heavy in arousal.
Baroo was the fourth...the one whose cock was weeping fluids so avidly. She had to know why that was before she made any further decisions.
“These three,” she breathed. “Len, Baroo, and Pol.”
The other three tipped their heads in acknowledgement and withdrew to the next chamber, probably to dress. She winced at the thought that more than one of them was probably relieved that she hadn’t tied him to her.
The three she’d asked to examine further shot looks that seemed to question silently at each other. None of them voiced their concerns, whatever they were.
They are not permitted to. There was something liberating in that.
Now that she’d asked to consider them closer, Ani didn’t know how to accomplish it. She could hardly ask the questions she wanted to. Could she?
I have every right to.
“You are all very...ready,” she noted.
Three brows furrowed, and sideward glances passed between them, but none of them commented.
Ani worked her lower lip between her teeth, nearly squirming in place.
Syth cleared his throat. “Did you mean a question in that, Raga?” he asked formally, using her title instead of her name. “You must be specific in your asking.”
Her face flamed. “How often...? How often do you each typically...?” She swallowed hard. “Mother take it. I cannot do this.” She turned to leave, the precursors of tears burning at her eyes.
Syth made no move to stop her. Part of her wished he would. Another was relieved he wasn’t doing so.
Her hand was on the archway when one of them spoke.
She spun back to them, her heart hammering. By the way Len and Pol gaped at him, she guessed that Baroo had spoken.
“Ask whatever you wish of us. If you choose to bed with one of us... It is your right.” He tipped his head and offered a solemn and serious look.
Len and Pol nodded and grumbled their agreement.
Her heart hammering hard against her ribs, she took careful steps toward them. “How often do you?”
Len looked as if he would rather not answer that question. “As often as I have the opportunity to. With training and my other duties, nearly daily still.”
“Thank you.” Her mind reeled at his answer.
Pol went next. “More than daily. I have a fierce hunger.”
She suspected he was boasting, hoping she wanted a virile man. He wanted to impress her. Ani knew Krieger bedded with women often, and she didn’t care for a boastful man. “Thank you.” She hoped it didn’t sound as cold and clipped as it felt.
Ani looked at Baroo.
He met her gaze solidly. “Typically close to daily. I have gone as far as three hand of days, but I prefer not to wait longer than one or two.”
She didn’t hesitate. “And the last time you lay in a woman?”
Baroo didn’t flinch from the question. “A day ago.”
“Then you are not...?” The words stuck in her throat.
He waited patiently for the question, his eyes soft and inviting.
That gave her the courage to ask it. “Then you are...content not to bed a woman today...or soon, if needs be? You are not crazed to bed?”
“None of us would force you to bed, Raga.” His voice was soothing.
“That was not what I asked,” she huffed.
Baroo cocked his head to one side and stared at her for a moment. Just when she would have rephrased the question for him, he answered.
“No. I am not crazed for a woman.”
The others hastened to add their agreement.
He wasn’t crazed for a woman, but he strained and wept sex fluids. Ani launched into her next question before she could convince herself that it was inappropriate.
“Is...” She motioned to his cock. “Is that...personal...to me?”
Baroo looked down at himself, seemingly confused. “All the men are erect, Raga.”
“That did not help,” she grumbled.
“Be specific,” Syth reminded her.
Ani swallowed hard and looked up at the three men. Their reactions to her question were varied. Len seemed to be studying cracks in the ceiling. Baroo silently invited her to ask. Pol smirked in a way she found most irritating.
“Please leave,” she snapped at him.
His smile disappeared, and he tipped his head, following her orders without question. No matter why he was aroused, Ani would not spend her time bedding with a man she loathed.
There was a tense moment of silence. Finally, Ani forced herself to speak.
“You react more acutely than the other men do,” she explained to Baroo. “Is it because of me? Do you feel something for me personally?”
Her heart pounded in fear that he would say it wasn’t personal, that he felt nothing for her personally, that none of them did.
Baroo stared at her for a long moment. None of the men spoke. They barely breathed.
“Yes. Very personal,” he offered. His muscles tensed, as if he feared she would tell him to leave next. Or perhaps he feared Syth and Len would accuse that he was swaying her with his words.
Ani took a step toward him, daring to lay a hand on his chest. A gasp left his mouth, and his cock jerked. His muscles tightened down another notch.
“Len can leave,” she managed. “I have made my choice.”
Len withdrew a step. “Thank you for your consideration, Raga. May you have many strong sons.” The blessing imparted, he left the chamber.