In the year of our Lord Stron 382 (more widely reckoned in the realms of Aern as the Alinorian year 282 Post Reformation), in the wilderness outside the village of Callic in the Kingdom of Strana in the alliance of the Holy Stronian United Kingdoms, there was a miracle. It was not, as these things go in Aern, the biggest of miracles. In fact, it was a rather small one. But it was a miracle nonetheless.
Otilla of the Holy Fire, known to her friends as Peep, performed the miracle in her Burning of the Lair of the Ettercap in the Callic Old Mill (as it would officially come to be known). To be clear, as the event would be subjected to some theological debate as to its precise nature, the miracle was not that Otilla of the Holy Fire produced Holy Fire from the Wheels of Stron that had been branded into her flesh. That ability was not miraculous in of itself. As a human agent subjected to a Holy Possession of a spirit of the Holy Host in her baptism, it was to be expected that Otilla of the Holy Fire would come to manifest spell-like abilities as a favored bloodletter of the war god, Stron.
No, the miracle was not that she could produce flaming hands three times a day from her Wheel brands. Nor that she could lay on hands to cure wounds and remove poison. Why, most clerics or paladins of Stron or Altas could do that. The miracle was the intensity and duration of the Holy Fire that she produced in her immolation of the ettercap lair. As witnessed by a cleric of Stron who was the parish lay priest of Callic valley, known simply as Nate, and by two men-at-arms graduates of a Brothers of the Holy Stone orphanage school, and with all such reputable witnesses being in good standing with the Church, the Holy Fire produced by Otilla of the Holy Flame was an order of magnitude more powerful than a simple flaming hands spell-like effect.
Most importantly, though, was that all witnesses reported that they felt the presence of a powerful spirit of the Holy Host, if not Stron himself, during the event. With all factors being duly considered by the Church, it was so declared that the Burning of the Lair of the Ettercap in the Callic Old Mill by Otilla of the Holy Flame did indeed constitute a miracle.
At the time of the event, and in the weeks following it, none of the witnesses or participants were aware that they had been part of what would become an official miracle. They did know, however, without any doubt, that they had been witness to a momentous occasion in their community’s history. It was the kind of thing that the children in attendance would have been proud to tell their grandchildren they had experienced.
After Peep had lit the fire in the tower, her and the others set about having a good party while they watched it burn. They ate well and drank deep of wine as they passed pipes of good local marijuana. After they had eaten, Peep took Choke, Pinch, and Knuckle aside. She produced the pouch of hallucinogenic mushrooms and fungus Earl had sold her and distributed them all a heroic dose. Normally not one to indulge in inebriants, for a change Choke did not protest or hesitate in taking what Peep gave him. Then, profoundly high, the squad enjoyed the night.
Inside the tower, the fire burned on with a terrifying intensity, casting a holy glow from the white-hot furnace the Old Mill had become. The widened rooftop exit served as a smokestack, sending a plume of smoke into the sky. With the tower being built entirely of good Dwarven masonry, without any structurally integral wood inside, there was no danger at all that it would collapse.
However, as the fire reached its full intensity, there was some fright and panic among the assembled humans as an unearthly wail arose in the woods nearby. Thankfully, with Father Nate organizing a reconnoiter, it was soon discovered to be the Dwarves’ secret escape tunnel from the complex underneath the tower. The exit door was open; now a cave in the bush. The wail was that of the great fire drawing air through the underground complex beneath it.
With the mystery of the Old Mill banshee solved before it could overtake the smallfolk, Father Nate next realized that the plume of smoke overhead would surely attract many more people their way. Everyone in the valley was, of course, now well-aware of what the squad had been up to, and would take the smoke as a clear signal of their victory. Father Nate took one of his men out to the Unger farmstead to supervise getting any newcomers safely to the party.
Over the course of the evening, more and more people joined the fete, coming in their own time. They brought with them more food, booze, and drugs, as well as an earnest desire for everyone to make good use of them. Of course, the celebrants soon disregarded all caution as they wandered in the woods around the tower. There were shrieks of terror, and then amusement, as some unfortunates became entangled in more spider webs. However, the monsters that had spun them were dead, and the victims were soon freed, ultimately well-pleased to have such an entertaining experience to take away with them from the event.
With the shrooms in full effect, the Burning of the Old Mill was an otherworldly event for the squad, and they soon lost all track of everything. Some of the peasants had brought musical instruments with them: flutes, fiddles, and simple lyres combined with voice and improvised percussion. As night fell, the folk danced in the light of the Holy Fire within the tower, now an incredible heap of orange and white coals painful to look into. The heat was unbelievable. A number of foolish people burned themselves in silly dashes up to the threshold.
Choke wandered to-and-fro amongst the people in that wild night. Stripped of his armor and weapons down to just his tunic, he felt safe and at ease. There was nothing to fear here. And then, Earl’s colored mists came and showed him many things, both wonderful and horrific. Choke laughed and wept as the happy people swimming around him laughed with and at him.
Deep in that night, Choke found himself in the woods on a blanket in a bed of moss with someone soft and moist. Her mouth was upon him, tongue swirling. They drank of each other, these new scents and flavors intoxicating him further. Then she guided him into her and they writhed their way into sweet oblivion together.
The next morning, Choke awoke wrapped in a big wool blanket damp from the moss beneath. There was a woman with him. They were both naked. Choke groaned and propped himself up on an elbow to have a look around. They were in a tiny clearing within a stand of tightly grown, stunted pines.
The woman stirred beside him. She moaned sleepily in a long, satisfied purr, and stretched like a cat. Then she snuggled into Choke, wriggling her ass as she grabbed his arm and pulled him into spooning her. She guided his hand further down and they were soon deep into it again.
When he had finished, Choke rolled up off the woman and turned his back on her. He sat at the edge of the blanket and rubbed his face hard, doing his best to collect his wits into some semblance of coherence.
“Where are ye going now?” the woman behind him asked. She rolled over his way and slid her soft hands up his broad back, running them over and through the troughs of his muscles.
“I can’t,” Choke eventually managed as he tried lamely to shrug her off. “This was wrong.”
“Was it? Well, if it was, then I don’t wanna be right,” the woman said.
“Well I do,” Choke answered. He reached for his tunic and breeches dangling with the woman’s frock from nearby pine branches and stood up with his back to her to dress himself. Then he handed the dress back to the woman, doing his best not to look at her. “Put this on, please,” he said.
“I won’t,” the woman said ignoring the garment. She fell back into the blanket with a sensual stretch.
The woman was older, possibly in her fifties, but still had a fine figure. She was reasonably attractive as well. She lacked the hard-living, broken down look of most peasants her age.
“I have to pee,” the woman whined. “But I don’t wanna get outta bed. Sit down with me and have a chat for a minute.”
Choke sighed and sat down on the edge of the blanket, still facing away from the woman.
“What’s yar name, anyways?” the woman asked as she rolled over to him and sat up to slide her hands up the back of his tunic to rub on him some more.
“You mean you don’t know?” Choke snapped.
“Don’t take a tone with me, young man. I never caught it. And I’ll bet ye don’t know mine!”
“That’s true. I don’t.”
“Well then!” the woman hopped back into the center of the blanket and knelt up to present her hand Choke’s way. “Aiya Perkins, sire. And a pleasure it is to meet ye!”
Choke sighed again and turned around into a kneel of his own to take her hand. He kept steady eye contact with her as he did, doing his best to ignore her breasts, which she was thrusting his way with a fetching arch of her back.
“I am Bartholomew. But my friends call me Choke.”
“Well, then. May I do so?”
“Call ye, Choke?”
“Yeah. Sure,” Choke said, finally letting her hand drop.
Aiya laughed. “It’s okay to look at me, ye know. We’ve already taken on the sin by doing the deeds we did. Ye may as well enjoy yarself properly now! Oh, ye Stronian lads, with all yar guilt! How very silly!”
“You say that I’m Stronian as though you aren’t.”
Aiya shrugged. “Are we concerned about that? Are ye out here looking for witches for the ravens to burn? I am what I am. And before we have to get further into the mess of whatever notions of sex they’ve filled yar silly little head with, ye don’t need to worry about yar seed being planted. And that’s not because I feed my babies to the moon, or any such nonsense. I was never able to have children, so ye can rest easy on that front. Quite a blessing that has turned out to be, in fact. Once Sandy, my husband, may he rest in peace, got reconciled with it, that is.”
Choke stared into space as his muddled mind sought to connect several loose threads adrift within it. Aiya took advantage of this lapse by scootching closer. She lifted his calloused hand in both of hers and cupped her breast with it. Then she pushed his thumb into motion to massage her nipple, which hardened under his touch.
“Wait a minute. You’re widowed…” Choke muttered.
“Mmm-hmmm,” Aiya intoned. She left Choke’s hand to continue its work and slid both hers up Choke’s thighs.
“Perkins, you say?”
“Yeah,” Aiya sighed as she began to massage Choke’s cock through his breeches.
“Oh, that’s it! You’re the Widow Perkins!”
“Oh, so ye have head of me! I’m so pleased! What a clever boy! Ye deserve a prize. Let’s both have a pee and then I’ll give ye one.”
Having figured out that this woman was the very same Widow Perkins that Shane’s brother Earl had told them so much about, Choke gave his head a shake as he returned his focus to the moment. In doing so, he found himself quite unable to resist the situation in which he found himself.
It was early afternoon by the time the Widow Perkins released Choke from her clutches in their little mossy sanctuary in the woods. He emerged alone from the bush with his horizons significantly broadened. Try as he might, he could not bring himself to regret it too deeply.
With no clear idea of where he was, Choke wandered about until he found his way to the creek at the watering pool under Unger’s hunting blind. It seemed as though someone else in a similar discombobulated state had already been there. There was a jumbled pile of clothes sitting on a rock next to the pool, without any other sign of the owner. Grateful for that, Choke stripped down again and splashed into the pool to scrub himself down and drink his fill of the refreshing water.
With his tunic and breeches damp from putting them on when he was still wet, Choke walked down the hunting trail to the Old Mill. There was an informal camp in the clearing around the tower. A number of people were still sleeping off the previous night in the shade, with others lounging around eating and drinking more. Kids were running around, shrieking and playing heroes versus spider-monsters. Inside the tower, there were still a good amount of coals smoldering away in heaps of ash. The heat from the stone within was still dangerous.
“There he is!” Peep exclaimed with a grin as she hopped to her feet amongst a group of women. She walked over to Choke with a spring in her step, unincumbered by splint or crutch.
“So!” she said with a significant leer when she reached Choke. “Where have ye been hiding? Ye found someone willing to extract that stick from yar ass, did ye?”
Choke blushed. “Where are Knuckle and Pinch?” he asked in an attempt to distract her.
“Oh, I dunno. It seems like Pinch was about to fall prey to someone’s wife or another when I last saw him. So I guess he’s still ploughing someone else’s field at the present. Much as you did, ye dog!”
“He was kicking around earlier. I guess he went back to the Unger farm. He seemed pissy still, so I guess he couldn’t find anybody willing to take him on. Going to show that being a hero of the faith will only go so far. Women around here aren’t quite as dumb as I thought!” Peep laughed.
“And do you have any idea where Father Nate is?” Choke asked. His stomach rumbled as he did, and he realized how famished he was.
“He finished healing up me ankle and then pissed off back to town. Stop worrying so much! Everything’s good. Come on and have something to eat!”
Peep took Choke over to the circle of women she had been sitting with. He was well received. They fixed him a good meal of bread, butter and honey, and cold roast venison from the night before. They had a little cook fire going and put on a fresh pot of stugroot for him.
While Choke was eating, Peep laid healing hands on him once more, to finish healing his ettercap cuts. Then she and Janice worked together on taking his stitches out. Choke took this stoically and ate as best he could one handed. While this was going on, another woman brought Choke his chainmail, doublet, and weapons.
“Ye seemed to lose track of these, last night,” she said with a smile.
“Thank you. Yes I did.”
“And wherever did ye wind up, I wonder,” an older woman laughed. The other women joined in her mirth.
Choke blushed again. This only increased their amusement.
“Oh, leave the poor lad be!” Janice chided the others. “He’s been locked up in a raven cloister his whole life! He don’t know which way’s up, now does he?”
“I guess this morning’s he’s got a better notion of which end is up, down, and every other which way!” the older woman cackled.
“Well, ye know,” Peep interjected, “him and the others took a trip to Strana when they got out, so they might surprise ye!”
“Oh, did they now! So tell us, lad, what do them big city hoors have to teach us poor country galls who only got what Altas gave us to work with?”
“I wouldn’t know. I never partook. By the way, where are all the men?” Choke asked, looking around the clearing in desperation. It was all women and children.
“Oh, most of them are sculking home to pretend nothing happened last night,” one of the other middle-aged women said. “After one of these whoop-ups, it’s usually best for all involved parties to avoid each other in the morning after. Saves a lot of ruffled feathers about whose coop was raided by which fox the night before, and all that.”
“And don’t no one think too deep about who the babies look most like in nine months!” the elder woman chortled.
This caused even greater hilarity amongst the women, who laughed and cackled on and on. Now almost in blind panic, Choke wolfed down the rest of his food and gathered up his gear. Then he beat a retreat, heading for the Unger farmstead, thanking Stron for his escape as he did.