* * *
The Moorish Castle of Gormaz is a sprawling ruin now, but at the very beginning of the High Middle Ages it was the greatest fortress in Europe. From its vantage on a high ridge, the castle dominated the valley of the Rio Duero and the village below. For nearly a century, Moors and Christians battled over the fortress and the fertile lands it controlled.
* * *
The shadows were already long when sentries spotted the horsemen galloping up the Rio Duero to beat sunset to Gormaz. They gathered among the tile-roofed buildings in the empty village, and even in the fading light the sharp-eyed boys who watched from the castle towers could make out the crosses on their shields. The riders were Christian—at least they knew that much.
Men on the castle walls beat drums to call the last farmers from the fields while Falcona stood behind the parapet and watched the strangers mount the steep trail to the ridge-top castle's Moorish gates. "Let them in, Iago" she said. She touched the Galician's broad shoulder to turn him away. "There are nine. Greet them with twelve, and deliver their captain to me. The rest—give them dinner, get them drunk, and see what they have to say."
Falcona turned her back to the sunset and her companions followed close behind. They walked the long walk along the parapet toward the fortress's distant keep—just three small figures silhouetted against the darkening sky. The market was nearly empty, and the stables were growing quiet, but smoke rose from cooking fires in the soldier's crowded camp and from the families who gathered around makeshift shelters.
They stopped where children's voices from within the walls mixed with the clucks and bleats of the villagers' livestock, and when a few more steps would hide their view of the gate. Falcona watched as the strangers led their mounts into the courtyard, and she spoke to the women with her. "Their livery is Alfonso's," she said. "I might as safely have sheltered Almanzor."
Sister Madalena, the taller of the two women, stepped to Falcona's side and said, "You know Señora, that there is no reward without risk."
Knowledge would be Falcona's reward. Her interests were in the movement of armies, the plans of kings and emperors, and the needs of the people. She glanced at Madalena. "What reward would you like?" she asked, and then waved the woman aside. She already knew what Madalena wanted. She didn't need to say.
One man removed his helmet and separated himself from the others to face Iago. Falcona was too far from the gate to hear what they said, but she could see Iago push the captain ahead of him—more like a prisoner than a guest.
Sister Taresa—the second of Falcona's companions—watched and then turned to Falcona. "Shouldn't we be there before Iago delivers him?" she asked.
"We seem to have some time," Falcona said as she watched the men approaching. The stranger made his way through the crowd as slowly as Iago allowed. It wasn't the weight of his weapons and armor that slowed him. He took in as many details as he could, and Falcona read his every move and gesture. He estimated the size of the garrison and counted the guards; he counted the livestock and the villagers huddled within the enormous castle's walls.
Falcona had seen enough. She turned east again along the top of the wall while twilight engulfed the broad valley far below them. The three women crossed over the little chapel where old Brother Esteban prayed, and they stopped where the shadows crept up the west wall of the keep.
Falcona's standard had been her husband's; it was red and blazoned with a single gold cross, and it fluttered in the last sunlight above the highest point in the fortress—above tile roof of the keep. Before they reached it, the women descended stairs to the ground and wound their way through the defenses into the heart of the castle—into the darkened alcazar.
The women waited at the top of the stairs that lead into the keep, and stewards brought torches and stood beside them. It wasn't long before Iago pushed the captain into Falcona's presence. The stranger gawked up at the high walls and towers that rose around him on all sides and didn't notice her until Iago turned him to face the stairs, and then he caught his breath.
The Red Witch was as infamous for her powers as she was famous for her beauty. Falcona cultivated her fame because it drew allies to her, and she cultivated her infamy because it kept idle threats at bay.
"Mind your manners," Iago said. He pushed the captain down on one knee at the foot of the stairs, and the stranger bowed to the lady of the castle.
Falcona drew herself up straight and asked, "Your name?" He let his eyes travel up her body. She was clad entirely in red with a silver girdle and bands of silver on her sleeves, and he looked away when his eyes met her icy gaze.
"I am Gascon de Perés y Hernandez," he said. "We engaged Almanzor at Burgos. He scattered our forces and sacked the city. I seek food and shelter for my men. We are at your mercy."
"And what do you seek for yourself?" Falcona asked.
Gascon hadn't expected her question, but he mustered as much bravado as he could. "For myself," he said, "I ask only to bask in your beauty."
Falcona ignored Gascon's attempt at flattery. "Disarm him," she told Iago. "See to his men and their horses, and Madalena will deliver him to the hall for dinner."
Sister Taresa opened the door of the keep for Falcona, and followed her into the darkness. The smaller woman hurried to keep up with the witch's long strides, and caught up with her on the steep stairs. "What do you make of this Gascon?" she asked.
"He's a spy," Falcona said. "I'll find out why he's here, and then you and Madalena can use him as you like." She stopped only once she was in her room then turned on Taresa, "You want him too, don't you?" she asked, and when Taresa nodded her answer Falcona said, "Tell me what you like more. Is it when the man takes your virginity, or when I restore it?"
Taresa watched Falcona without smiling. "Señora, as long as you grant us our redemption those two things are one. They are halves of a cycle, and we are your servants."
Falcona turned away without acknowledging Taresa's answer. A full moon burned orange as it rose above the eastern horizon, and its light fell through the arrow slit in the east wall of her chamber. It was enough for them to see while Falcona wrapped herself in a red cloak from her wardrobe.
The chest at the foot of Falcona's bed held oils, salves and potions. She touched it and heard the lock inside click open. She slipped an alabaster vial from the chest into a hidden pocket in her cloak, and touched the chest again to lock it.
Taresa followed the witch into the great hall, where torches burned on the walls, and candles lit a dinner for two at one end of the long table. Madalena waited behind Gascon, the cook and her helpers labored around the fire pit, and stewards stood in the shadows waiting for a call.
Gascon had regained his confidence. He leaned over the table with his knees set wide apart, tore a handful of bread off a loaf and used it to scoop gravy from a bowl in the middle of the table. The captain sat back, grinned at Falcona, and belched his compliment. "The lamb is tender and well-salted," he said, and washed it down with wine. "I hope my men are as well-fed."
"I doubt they are," the witch said, "but the wine will make up for it." She took her seat across from Gascon as Taresa joined Madalena behind him. Both of the women watched with keen interest.
Falcona ate more slowly than Gascon, and she talked while she ate. "You said you engaged Almanzor at Burgos. Who were you fighting for? What came of you?"
"We fought for Gonzalez in the name of the Emperor—in the name of Alfonso—and for Jesus Cristo," he said. "The Moors split our forces, and we had to retreat to the forest while they took the city."
Falcona watched Gascon carefully. Shadows from the flickering firelight lined his face, but she could still read his expression. "What you describe happened two weeks ago," she said. "The Count's forces regrouped at San Esteban. Why aren't you with them?"
Gascon hadn't expected the woman to be informed, and he looked away to gather his thoughts before he answered. "We were a rear guard, and lost the main force before they reached San Esteban. We are trying to reach them now."
Falcona didn't believe his story. Neither Gascon nor his men looked like they'd been routed from battle and wandered in the forest. Their horses and their clothing were fresh.
"The Moors are retreating from Burgos as we speak," she said. "They're going south to stay ahead of winter. The army will have to cross the river, and the bridge by the village is their best route. I sheltered the villagers in the castle to keep them out of harms way, but are they really safe?" she asked.
Gascon didn't answer her question. "How is it that you know so much?" he asked, and sat forward in his chair again.
"News travels to those who pay for it," Falcona said. "And there are signal towers all around the valley. They sit on every hill. No-one moves within miles of the castle without us knowing about them."
"Is that how a woman controls the strongest fortress in all of Léon and Al-Andalus?" Gascon asked, and the Red Witch's laugh sent a chill up his spine.
"My husband took the fortress from the Moors," she said, "but he died from his wounds, and Gormaz fell to me. No man since has been able to take it from me, and no man will.
"Knowledge is a more powerful defense than the castle's walls. You and your men are valuable to me only because of what you might be able to tell me. So tell me, Perés y Hernandez, who is it that I have to defend my castle from this time? Is it the Moors, or is it your Emperor?" Falcona watched Gascon set his jaw, and decided that she'd played his game long enough.
Gascon saw the change in Falcona without knowing what it was, and he took the opportunity to ask a question of his own. He reached back without looking and pulled Madalena forward by the skirt of her tunic. She lurched ahead to stand beside him. "You're wealthy and powerful," he said. "Why are your handmaiden's dressed no better than peasants?"
Falcona watched Gascon slide his hand up under Madalena's cape and pat her butt through her tunic. Madalena flinched and started to step away, but she stopped with a distracted expression and let Gascon's rough hand roam her thighs.
Taresa and Madalena were clothed like peasants. Each of them wore a brown tunic tied at the waist with a brown sash, a brown cape pinned around their shoulders, and a plain white headscarf to cover their head.
"Taresa and Madalena aren't my handmaiden's" Falcona said. "They're religiosas. Taresa was hardly old enough to walk, and Madalena was only a little older, when the hand of God delivered them to the shrine by the village. At least that's what people believed. They grew up under Brother Esteban's tutelage, and they've taken vows of servitude."
She smiled at the sudden change in Gascon's expression. "Taresa and Madalena serve God by serving the villagers, and they serve me as well, but be careful where you put your hand, Perés y Hernandez. You know that castration is the penalty for violating a consecrated virgin."
Gascon, shifted in his chair, pulled his hand from between Madalena's legs, and rested his elbows on the table. "How can you believe you're safe like this?" he asked, and gestured around the hall. "Without that big Galician or guards to protect you, I could have my way with you—as could any man worth his salt."
Falcona stepped away from the table to warm herself by the fire pit. She motioned to a steward and told him, "Bring us more wine." When she turned back to face Gascon, she said, "Don't think I'm naive. Even without Iago or his men here, you and your like are no threat to me."
Gascon's brow furrowed with anger, and he stood from his chair. He reached for Falcona to prove what he meant, and the Red Witch extended her hand toward him. It was a simple gesture, as if to tell him to sit, but a crushing blow forced Gascon back into the chair. He struggled to move, and he struggled to breathe until the witch released him, and then he gasped for air.
Falcona took the chalice offered by the steward, and sipped the wine while he refilled Gascon's. "You see, Perés y Hernandez?" she asked. "Whoever sent you here did you no favor. I'm not satisfied with the answers you've given me, and I will be satisfied." She looked up to Madalena and Taresa waiting behind Gascon and said, "Take his clothes. Cut them off if you need to."
The nuns took to their task with gusto. They laughed while they worked. Taresa opened the clasps that held Gascon's tunic and slipped her hands down over his bare chest while Madalena knelt in front of him to take his shoes and his hose. She reached under his tunic to stroke his muscular thighs with both hands, and she tugged at his breech cloth.
Gascon was confused when he looked up at Falcona. "What do you want?" he asked. He pushed Taresa's hand away and then Madalena's before the witch gestured again and pressed him back into the chair.
"I want the truth," Falcona said. "I saw the way you took stock of my forces, my supplies, and my people. You've lied and dodged my questions as if you planned to be part of my next problem. I won't be dodged again."
"I'm a soldier," Gascon said, and tried to sit up again. "It is my nature to watch those things. I'm not a spy!" But Falcona stepped back without a word while the nuns worked. Gascon slouched naked in front of her when the nuns finished their job and stood beside him.
Falcona set her chalice on the table, slipped the alabaster vial from the hidden pocket of her cloak, and knelt between Gascon's knees. "When I ask my questions again," she said, "you're going to tell me the truth."
Gascon covered his groin with both hands and tried to pull his legs together, but a flip of the witch's finger was all it took to stop him.
"You're a big man," Falcona said, and slipped her fingers around Gascon's flaccid cock. She poured a thin stream of oil from her vial, put the vial away in her cloak, and used both hands to smooth the oil up his shaft and around his balls. All the while, she muttered a chant.
Gascon groaned and writhed. He clenched his teeth and tried to fight off his sudden arousal. "Your hands! They burn!" he gasped, but Falcona's fingers worked without interruption under his balls and along his suddenly-hardened cock. Gascon writhed in Falcona's hands and instinctively pushed back against her strokes. Her magic made his cock grow bigger and harder than it had ever been before, and he balanced on a thin line that separated pleasure and pain.
"God have mercy!" Gascon begged, but it wasn't God's mercy that he needed; it was Falcona's, and Falcona had no mercy.
Falcona's spell was cast when spasm's wracked Gascon's body. His eyes rolled back, he clenched his teeth, and the contractions gripped his balls. They sent his hot essence splattering across his chest and belly—again, and a third time, until they died away.
The nuns licked their lips while they watched, and Falcona milked Gascon until his body stopped twitching. He was still struggling to catch his breath when Falcona laid his still-hard shaft down and rose to stand over him. Gascon's heaving chest slowed, but he felt no relaxation, no emptiness, no satisfaction.
Falcona offered Taresa her hand, and while the little nun tasted Gascon's thick cum on her fingers, the witch told Gascon, "Perés y Hernandez, you won't be soft again, and you won't be empty until I release you from my spell, or until you die. Until then, you'll need a woman like you need air to breathe."
Gascon's eyes opened wide because he could feel the truth in what Falcona said. He looked from the witch to Taresa, and to Madalena. When Madalena looked back, she saw desperation in his eyes. Gascon needed no more than that glance from her before he pulled her down between his knees. She squealed in surprise, but he muffled her by pushing his cock between her lips.
Madalena needed only a moment to recover, and then she slipped her lips down his shaft. Gascon laid back in his chair while the sensitive head of his cock traveled over her tongue to the back of her throat. The wet warmth in Sister Madalena's mouth and her tongue's eager explorations forced all thought from Gascon's mind. He moaned into the darkness above him.
Falcona sipped her wine and watched, and then she handed her chalice to Sister Taresa and said, "I expect that he'll need you when Madalena's done with him."
Taresa sipped the wine. "As you wish, Señora." the nun said. She cupped her breast in one hand and, without thinking, she pinched her nipple through the coarse fabric of her tunic. The touch sent a rush through her body. "He'll find me willing."
Madalena's noises grew louder, and came more quickly, and the cooks and stewards stepped around the table without uttering a word. They watched Falcona for signs of disapproval, found none, and turned their wide eyes on Gascon and on the nun.
Gascon clutched at Madalena, and he shoved her headscarf back until her long, red braid fell free. He put his hands on her head and forced his cock down her throat. It wasn't until Gascon's climax overwhelmed him that his fingers knotted in excitement, and he let Madalena go. He bellowed, Madalena gasped for breath, and his cream gushed into her mouth, onto her cheek and her neck.
The nun sat down between Gascon's knees and wiped him off her face with the tail of her cape while his bare chest heaved. His cock—as thick and hard as it had ever been—pulsed between his legs. It gleamed in the flickering light under a coat of Sister Madalena's spit and his hot cum.
When Gascon lifted his head again, he glanced at the cooks and stewards who silently watched. He focused desperate eyes on Falcona, and then on Sister Taresa. Falcona took the chalice from the little nun's hand, but barely in time.
Gascon lurched out of the chair, and Madalena ducked out of his way. He pulled Taresa close and inhaled the scent that rose from her black hair and from within her tunic. Any thought of saving himself from castration was drowned by his screaming need. He forced the little nun down on her back at Falcona's feet, and Falcona stepped back against the table to give them room, and to watch.
Even if Taresa had wanted to protest she could not because Gascon covered her mouth with his and forced his tongue between her teeth. He groped at her small breasts as his hand traveled down her body, and he pulled the hem of her tunic to her waist.
Gascon shoved Sister Taresa's thighs apart. The dark curls between her legs framed her cunt and her parted pussy lips gleamed wet in the firelight. They both caught their breath when Gascon shoved his cock into her. She gasped from the pain as her hymen tore, and he gasped from his excitement.
Taresa's body yielded, but her tight grip around Gascon's cock was maddening to him. He paused only a second to catch his breath, and then he pushed into her as far as he could reach. She arched her back and lifted her legs around his hips while he fucked her. His hard flesh filled her, and his animal passion thrilled her.
"Do you think he'll live long enough to satisfy us all?" Madalena asked. Her eyes were fixed on Gascon's muscular butt as he squeezed himself into Taresa, but her hands wandered her own body. She touched her throat, she touched her full breasts, and she stroked her hand down her belly.
"He'll still be here to satisfy you," Falcona said. She sipped her wine and looked over the rim of the chalice at the shadowed expressions on the cooks and stewards who watched. They'd seen the virgins ravaged before, so now they watched a miracle, and they crossed themselves after each of Taresa's loud cries.
Gascon's plunging shaft glistened under a coat of Taresa's blood and nectar, and their bodies slapped together in an accelerating rhythm. His cock burned with excitement from its sensitive head all the way to his balls, and he needed Taresa to quench the fire.
Taresa's eyes were closed, her mouth was open, and she rocked under him. The garbled sounds she made only urged him on. She clutched at Gascon's broad shoulders, and he threw his head back to groan at the dark ceiling. He stopped with his shaft deep between the nun's spread thighs, and his hot cream gushed.
Gascon slammed himself into Taresa, snorting and bellowing like a beast, until he finally collapsed and rolled away from her. He spread his arms and legs to cool himself, and he stared up at the shadows cast by flickering torch light. His orgasm had passed, but he wasn't satisfied, and he wasn't empty. He closed his eyes, and his lips began to move.
Taresa leaned close to hear what Gascon said. "'Nam, et si ambulavero in medio umbrae mortis, non timebo mala quoniam tu mecum es.'" she said, "He recites the 22nd Psalm."
"Perhaps this time his shepherd has lead him astray," Falcona said, and Gascon's eyes flew open. He looked from face to face among the people who stood over him, and his search stopped on Sister Madalena.
Gascon fought a battle with his own desires, and he lost. His hands trembled as he climbed to his knees and crawled to the nun. She would have stepped back, but Gascon grasped her ankle with one hand and wrapped his arm around her leg. He shoved his head under her tunic and used his grip to pull himself up.
Madalena caught her breath and stepped her legs apart. She put both hands on Gascon's head when he shoved his face between her legs, but not to push him away. She looked at Falcona and said, "He starves," then gasped in surprise as Gascon laid her down on the floor.
Gascon pushed Madalena's tunic up and her knees apart, and his nostrils flared with excitement. He parted the nun's red curls, opened her pussy, and found her hymen. One thick finger made her blood seep onto his hand, and a second finger tore her.
Madalena squealed at the sharp pain, but Gascon left her no time to regain her composure before he pushed his cock into her. His shaft was already slippery from Taresa; Madalena had been wet with anticipation before, and now she was wet and bloody. Gascon's thick cock slipped into the nun's tightly-stretched pussy and filled her in a single deep thrust.
Falcona gave them room and watched them writhe in front of her. She snapped her fingers to get the attention of a distracted steward. "Bring me Iago," she said. "I will need him here."
Gascon cradled the back of Madalena's neck in one hand and stifled her cries with the other. His weight pinned her to the floor and his thrusts forced her thighs apart. He tried to douse the desire that burned in his soul, but Madalena's cunt only fed the flames. He pounded the nun's butt against the floor, and in her excitement Madalena answered by clawing at the sweat-slicked skin on Gascon's arms and his back 'till he bled.
Falcona motioned to Sister Taresa, and laid her cloak on the table. She unhooked the brooch that closed her red tunic, and Taresa reached under it to untie the under-tunic. The little nun lifted Falcona's clothes over her head, and the witch stood naked in the yellow light. In that moment before she wrapped herself in the red cloak again, Falcona's body showed sleek and firm; her breasts were perfect teardrops, and her erect nipples betrayed her anticipation.
Madalena bit Gascon's hand that covered her mouth. He bellowed at the pain, she turned her head away, and the cooks and stewards stepped closer as if to better hear her cries.
The pain was meaningless; Gascon was too aroused to know anything but his raging need. He stopped for a moment with his shaft buried deep inside Madalena, his body tightened, and he groaned through clenched teeth. Even in the deep shadows, Falcona could see Gascon's balls clench and his cock pulse while his essence filled the nun.
Gascon grew still on top of Madalena and fell silent but for his gasps as he tried to catch his breath. When he opened his eyes again, he looked over his shoulder at the Red Witch standing with her cloak open and her feet stepped apart. He tried to scramble away, but slipped on a greasy plank wet with sweat and blood, nectar and semen, and he backed up against the unyielding legs of the cooks and stewards who watched.
Gascon's expression was wide-eyed, but he licked his lips as his eyes traveled from the curling wisps of Falcona's delta up to her soft breasts and the thick braid of blond hair that fell over her shoulder.
"Come to me, Perés y Hernandez" Falcona said, and she crooked her finger at Gascon. Fear made him hesitate, but his need couldn't be denied. He clambered to his feet and lurched forward with his bloody cock straining for Falcona.
Falcona wrapped one hand around Gascon's shaft and turned his back against the table. She stepped close and watched the fear on his face. His fingers twitched from the need to touch her breasts, but everything he wanted to do to Falcona terrified him.
Gascon's lips moved almost silently, and Falcona leaned closer to hear him mutter, "Sancta Maria, Mater Dei, ora pro nobis peccatoribus, nunc, et in hora mortis nostrae."
Falcona laughed, and pulled Gascon's mouth to hers. She stifled his Ave Maria with her lips over his and her tongue in his mouth, and she pushed him back to break the kiss.
"You should be begging for my prayers, instead of the virgin's," she said. "You are going to die, you know, unless you have sex soon." Falcona traced her fingers over the bulging muscles in Gascon's chest. "You can feel it in your heart, can't you?" she asked.
Gascon nodded his answer. He was in pain.
"Your heart will burst," Falcona said. "I can save you, or I can watch you die." She gestured to push Gascon back, and he collapsed onto the table under the strength of her magic.
The witch savored Gascon's helpless panic before she let him go. She pushed his legs apart, climbed over him, and whispered close by his ear. "If you tell me the truth, I'll give you the relief you need. If you tell me lies, then I'll see you off to hell."
The nuns, the cooks, and the stewards gathered close around the table. When Iago got there, he had to push his way through them to reach Falcona. He watched without saying a word while the witch straddled Gascon's hips and lifted his hands to her breasts.
"Who paid you to come to Gormaz?" Falcona asked. "Who do you serve?"
Gascon groaned without answering. The witch ground herself along the length of his cock, and leaned into his hands. His heart pounded in his chest, and he chose the relief Falcona promised. "Almanzor," he said. "We work for Almanzor."
Falcona sneered at Gascon. "Traitors to your Christian brothers then," she said. "I hope the Moor paid you well." She glanced at Iago, and back to Gascon. "What were you supposed to do for him?" she asked. "Why are you here?"
Gascon writhed in pain. "Give me peace," he begged, but Falcona didn't flinch. He drew his breath and said, "His horsemen will be here before dawn. We were to kill your guards and open the gate."
Falcona drew back and watched Gascon's strained expression. "Your satisfaction, and mine, are almost complete," she said. "How were the Moors to know when your job was done?"
"We were to light a torch on the parapet above the gate," Gascon said.
That was what Falcona wanted. She rose on her knees and lifted Gascon's cock between her legs. He arched his back and groaned as she settled on him with his cock inside her.
Gascon's penetration sent a wave a pain through Falcona as her cunt stretched around his thick cock, and then a wave of pleasure as he filled her. She smiled at Gascon through half-closed eyes and rocked slowly on his body. The witch leaned to his ear and said, "My spell torments you now, but it will end when you satisfy me."
Falcona sat back with Gascon's cock deep inside her. She let her cloak slip down her arms and watched his reactions while she undulated naked over him. He squeezed her tits, then stroked his hands down her sides. His impulse was to push her hips down hard so his shaft penetrated further, but she pushed his hands away and continued to rock.
Sister Madalena touched Falcona's arm Taresa did the same. The cooks and the stewards watched with fixed stares, and they too reached to touch Falcona.
Iago slapped a steward's hand away, and Falcona smiled, with her eyes mostly shut. "They worship me," she said. "Let them be."
Falcona's bare skin glowed golden in the firelight and the ring of people around her reached to touch her. They caressed her arms and her shoulders; they touched her breasts and her back, her belly and her buttocks. They worshiped the Red Witch while she rose and fell on Gascon's cock, and all the time they sung quiet chants of the witch's power and beauty.
Her juice coated Gascon's shaft and trickled around his balls. Her pace accelerated, his eyes rolled back, and his nostrils flared. Gascon's cock seemed to stretch and grow even more inside Falcona and the sensation fed his excitement. He bucked under her, pushed up into her, and spasms wracked his body.
Gascon caught his breath for only a moment when his climax passed, and Falcona felt him trickling down her thigh. The sensation made her smile, but it didn't make her stop.
The touch of the cooks and stewards and their murmured invocations urged Falcona on, and she returned to her sensual undulation. She started slowly and rebuilt Gascon's excitement. She kept herself on the verge of her own orgasm while Gascon bucked and writhed between her legs. He squeezed Falcona's breasts and his glistening shaft plunged deep.
Gascon rewarded the witch when his breath rasped in his lungs, and his muscles tightened. He pushed himself up under Falcona; he did it again, then again and each time he pumped his hot essence into her. He groaned as his body relaxed, and those who stood to touch and watch sighed their relief.
Falcona sat back while Gascon's cum trickled around his cock and down her thigh, and she decided his fate. It wasn't until then that Falcona released him. She held his hands to support herself and let her excitement grow. Her climax built from her center as she rose and fell on Gascon's shaft and ground against his body until the spasms finally overcame them both.
Gascon bellowed at the ceiling when Falcona's cunt tightened around his shaft. His cream flooded her again, and her orgasm rushed through her body in waves. She gasped at the ceiling as they passed, and then collapsed on Gascon's heaving chest.
The cooks and stewards faded back into the shadows, and Gascon touched Falcona's hair and stroked her shoulders. His flaccid cock slipped out of her, and he fell into deep sleep.
Falcona climbed down from the table with Gascon dripping from between her legs and pulled her cloak around her. She found Iago whispering with a guard and motioned for him to come close. "You heard Perés y Hernandez," she said. "Garrote him. Kill all of them. I want their heads on stakes over the gate by dawn."
Iago was a man of few words, and Falcona didn't expect conversation, but he stopped her and said, "The signal towers down-river are lit. The Moors are traveling by the full moon."
"Set a good trap for them," Falcona said, and Iago understood.
Sister Taresa gathered the witch's clothes and stood waiting beside Sister Madalena. Falcona was talking to both of them when she said, "We may need your prayers by morning."
Madalena curtsied to the witch and said, "Señora, I fear the Lord won't hear our prayers as we are."
"Clean yourselves and come to my chamber when you're ready," Falcona said. "I'll make you whole again."
Falcona was alone when she climbed the stairs to her chambers. She slipped the alabaster vial from her cloak, touched the chest at the foot of her bed to unlock it, and traded the vial for a small box. When the trade was done, she left the box beside her bed and stepped to the arrow slit that faced west over the walled courtyard and down the river.
The moonlit valley spread out far below her, and fires burned on hilltop signal towers. A new fire—closer than the others—lit as she watched. Almanzor's horsemen were moving quickly.
Sister Madalena paused at the top of the steep stairs and asked, "Señora?" She stepped up into the room without waiting for an answer. Madalena carried a pitcher of warm water and Taresa followed with Falcona's clothes over one arm and a lamp in her hand.
Madalena filled a wash basin and knelt in front of Falcona with a moist cloth while Taresa spread the clothes on her bed. The witch stepped her feet apart to let the nun wash Gascon off her thighs and from the curling hair between her legs.
"We won't get much rest tonight," Falcona said and Madalena nodded her reply. "When we're done, I want you and Brother Esteban to move the villagers and their animals to shelter against the south wall. Keep them out of the open and out of the way."
The nuns answered in unison, "Si, Señora."
Falcona opened the box she'd left by the bed and held it up so Taresa could inhale the scent from the salve inside. They were all familiar with what would happen next. No matter how much Taresa or Madalena enjoyed sex, the act was never over until Falcona's touch and her magic completed it.
She coated her finger tips with the salve and pushed the little nun back against the tapestry that draped the stone wall. The witch held Taresa by her long braid and bent her head back. "Did you enjoy Perés y Hernandez?" Falcona asked. "The man may have been weak, but his flesh was strong."
Taresa looked up into Falcona's face and answered, "Si, Señora. He was forceful, and even the pain thrilled me."
Falcona smiled at Taresa's response, slipped her fingers under the hem of her tunic and watched the nun's eyes drift shut. She spread the salve over the deep creases between her legs then pushed one finger, and then two fingers through her torn hymen. Taresa winced in pain, and then smiled in relief.
Taresa's breath came fast and shallow, and her weight sagged into the witch's arms. Falcona held her up with her hands at the back of her head and between her thighs. She soothed Taresa and chanted quietly into her ear. The nun's mouth gaped open and the sounds she made became garbled noise.
Taresa trembled. She clutched at the witch's arms and her fingers knotted with excitement. Her breath stopped, she contracted around Falcona's fingers, and her orgasm gripped her body. Taresa screamed at the high ceiling when her climax passed, and only then did Falcona let her relax back against the wall.
The witch moved slowly and carefully. She slipped her fingers out of Taresa, and as Falcona withdrew, she left Taresa's hymen whole again.
Taresa slumped against the wall and muttered prayers while Falcona dipped her fingertips into the salve and turned to Madalena, who stood watching.
Falcona stepped close to Madalena, and even by the flickering light from the oil lamp she could see the effect from Madalena's anticipation. Her nipples thrust out under layers of coarse cloth. She cupped the nun's breast in one hand and said, "It's a pity that Perés y Hernandez was in such a hurry. He seemed fond of you, and there is so much more than your cunt that a man could enjoy."
Madalena let out a gasp when the witch turned her and bent her to her knees over the bed. Falcona gripped Madalena's red braid in one hand and turned her head. She watched the excitement written on Madalena's face while her fingers found their way up her thighs. She was already wet when Falcona started to explore her; her bud was firm, and her soft folds were slippery.
Falcona thrust her thumb into Madalena, and the sharp pain made the nun catch her breath. The witch pushed Madalena's thighs apart, swirled her fingers over her trigger, and chanted her incantation into the nun's ear. Falcona kissed Madalena's cheek and the sensitive spot below her ear, and she gave Madalena the sensual thrill of her touch and her magic.
Madalena's hands closed on the red tunic that Taresa laid on the bed, and she twisted the cloth with uncontrolled excitement. She picked her head up, clenched her teeth, and bucked in the witch's grip. Her body tightened when she came, and she wailed at the wall as it passed.
The nun's body relaxed in Falcona's grasp, and the witch pulled carefully away to leave Sister Madalena whole.
Falcona sniffed Madalena's scent on her hand then used the basin to wash. The nuns stood waiting for her when she finished. "See to the villagers" Falcona said, "and pray for them all." She closed the box of salve and stored it away again. When she looked up, the nuns were gone, and she was alone with her thoughts.
Mirrors were easily fooled, but water was always true. Falcona stood over her reflection in the wash basin and picked up the oil lamp to light her face. The woman who looked back from the water's still surface was not the beautiful Red Witch. She was a weary crone.
Falcona dropped into a chair to wait for dawn. She could step from behind her facade at times like this. It was easy for her to see the Red Witch as someone else—an old friend, a confidant.
"Were you still a child?" the Red Witch asked.
"I was," Falcona replied, "but they'd have burned me or drowned me for what I could do. My power was a gift from God, but they didn't understand, so I ran into the forest where the old witches brewed their spells. I learned their ways and the ancient language.
"And that's where I was born," the Red Witch said.
"Not there." the Falcona said. "You were born later, when I aged, and you stayed young and beautiful."
The candle lights flickered in the night's breeze while Falcona paused. "I loved him, you know."
"The Count, you mean? Why do you change subjects?"
"I'm not changing subjects. I enchanted a man I otherwise could not have won, and I fell in love with him. You never aged because I wanted to always be exciting for him. After he was gone, it was because I wanted the influence you gave me."
"I am but your servant, Señora," the Red Witch said, and she laughed. They fell quiet, and an owl hooted from the wall outside the keep. Falcona pulled her cloak close, and the witch asked, "You could not save him?"
"I was too late." Falcona answered. "My power and my spells weren't enough." She waved at the stone walls of the great keep. "But he's not gone. I still feel him here. His soul is in the stone he won. It's in the people who live here."
"You will lose it all someday," the Red Witch said. It was a repeated reminder. "Someone in your trusted circle—maybe it will be Iago, maybe Brother Esteban, or even the nuns—will betray you, and it will all be over."
Falcona said nothing at first, and then she spoke with a sigh. "It won't be Esteban. As much as he hates me, he knows we're married by a common purpose. You're right, though. Someday I'll lose, but until then I still have battles to fight."
It wasn't until the first cock crowed that Falcona startled awake and realized she'd dozed off. The sky outside her window was starting to gray, and the setting moon cast long, dim shadows. She hurried to dress. When she stepped from the keep she was once again the Red Witch, and her tunic and cape flowed around her.
Squires carrying swords, axes, and shields from the armory paused in their errands and knelt until Falcona dismissed them. She walked alone toward the castle gate, but slowed when Brother Esteban turned away from the pregnant woman he prayed over. He struggled to catch Falcona, so she stopped to see what the lame old man needed.
"Hell has no place too small to hold your immortal soul," he said.
"I wish you a fine day too, Esteban," Falcona said. "I thought you might pray for our success."
"I do," Esteban said, "but I hardly have time, because I pray for the men you butchered, for those who took part in your unholy communion last night, and for my Taresa and Madalena. You've damned them both."
"Again," Falcona said.
"This is an old argument, Esteban, and I have no time. If they're damned, then it's you who damned them. You raised them to live your way. If you'd given them a choice, they would have chosen a husband other than Jesus Cristo.
"You didn't stop me for idle chatter. What do you need?"
"Water," Esteban said. "There's none to cook with and the children are thirsty."
Falcona motioned to a steward who watched from the keep and told Esteban, "Tell him what you need, and he'll bring it."
The old friar turned his back, and then Falcona saw the worry in the eyes of the villagers who were sheltered in the moonlight against the wall. She went from mother to child and touched them all. "Be calm and mind your elders," she said, "and listen to the Sister's prayers. This will all be over soon."
The war had devastated Christian villages and the people who lived in them, but not Gormaz. The village below the castle walls flourished under Falcona's protection, and she would not let that change.
Falcona caught a last wayward child and sent him off with Sister Taresa before she passed the little chapel where the old widows prayed. A single fire lit the courtyard where usually vendors would be jockeying for space in the market. Instead, horses snorted and neighed in the twilight while squires cinched their saddles, and men prepared their arms and their mounts for battle.
The high gates were flanked by twin towers, and on the parapet between them a guard jammed a torch between the stones. It lit Gascon's bloody head and those of his men that were staked on spears to either side. The torch would bring the Moors close; the heads were there to stop them.
She found Iago with his mounted men forming into ranks of three—the largest rank that could fit through the Moorish gate. The slowly growing light let Falcona make out the archers who were hidden on the west side of the gate. They sat behind the crenelations with their backs to the parapet. There was a nervous hum among the men and an occasional rowdy outburst. Arms rattled and horses pawed impatiently at the ground, but otherwise the men were quiet. Their thoughts were their own.
"The Moors are moving now," Iago said. "They assembled in the forest by the river. By moonlight, we saw only horsemen, and we found three groups—probably forty each. Where will you watch, Señora?" he asked.
"Out of your way," Falcona said. She put her hand on Iago's arm to stop him from turning. "That's a small force to think they might take this castle. What if their frontal attack is a ruse?"
Iago pointed up to the parapets of the north wall, where boys watched over the vineyards on the hillside below. "So far, we see no threat," he said. "The Moors are confident from an easy win at Burgos. Their captain thinks his plan has worked. Maybe he's young and foolish. "
Falcona studied her own force while she made her way to the most distant tower that would let her see the approach to the castle. She had eighty mounted men, and half that number on foot, and Madalena moved among them, giving her prayers. They were armored men on horseback. They were foot soldiers with axes and shields; they were fathers, sons and brothers. She hoped the nun's prayers were heard.
Sunlight reached Falcona's standard above the keep while she climbed the ladder into the tower. She watched the Moors' first ranks gallop up the road to the castle. The road climbed the steep ridge from the west along the foot of the castle wall where the archers waited, and then at the end it turned up the rocky slope to the gate.
The last of the Moorish ranks were on the road when the first reached the foot of the steep climb. The leaders stopped, and one horseman in a gleaming helmet wrapped in a blue turban rode to the front while the formations behind him gathered close. He stopped, rose on his stirrups to study the nine heads staked on the parapet.
The captain wheeled his mount around and bellowed a command, but it was too late for the Moors to escape. Iago signaled his archers, and they stood from behind the parapet. The horsemen were trapped on the narrow road. The archers launched a rain of death that sent horses and riders tumbling down the rocky hillside. Riders who retreating at the front of the column collided with riders still coming up behind them, and confusion ruled their ranks.
Iago barked another order, and the castle gates swung open. Falcona's knights charged down the steep road, and the foot soldiers ran behind them. The witch's column caught the Moors from behind, and the scene erupted in blood and mayhem.
Falcona saw two unhorsed Moors fall down the hillside. They recovered as the fighting passed them and caught two horses who'd been unmanned. They gained control of their mounts and turned to face the castle's open gates. There was death behind them and glory in front of them, and they spurred their mounts up the rocky trail.
A nightmare vision flashed through Falcona's mind. She pulled her tunic to her knees and ran from the tower, along the parapet toward the chapel. Her feet pounded on the stone and her own heartbeat pounded in her ears, but over it all she heard chaos explode in the courtyard when the Moors crashed through the old men closing the gate.
Brother Esteban heard the sounds, too. He limped from the chapel and squinted at the scene in front of the gates. The sun had just reached the top of the stables, and it glinted off the Moors' slashing blades. Archers turned on the parapet and drew their bows, but they couldn't fire into the melee without hitting their own.
The riders wheeled their mounts about and swung at everyone and everything around them before they spotted the distant keep. First one rider, and then the other ducked his head against his horse's neck and charged east toward the tower and the unprotected families who were sheltered outside of it.
There were no steps or ladders at the chapel. Falcona wedged her toes and fingers into the stonework and clambered down the rock wall until she could jump to the ground, and then she turned and stumbled into the open.
The first rider would have been past her before she could stop him, but Brother Esteban fell to his knees in front of his charge and did what he could—he prayed for the grace of God. The rider passed Esteban, but then reigned his mount and turned back. He severed the old friar's head with one blow while the second rider thundered past, toward Falcona and the screaming women and children behind her.
Drums throbbed from the parapets to call Falcona's fighters home. Their sound reverberated from the castle walls and merged with the beat of the horses hooves as they bore down on her. Falcona braced herself against their attack and extended her right hand toward the first rider. She motioned as if to close her fist around his neck, and she crushed his throat. In one motion she slammed him to the ground.
The second rider lurched around the suddenly riderless horse. He raised his bloodied blade with his wide eyes fixed on Falcona. She gestured with her left hand as if to grasp his wrist, broke his sword arm with a twist, and tore him off his mount.
The terrified warhorses reared and bucked, and they trampled their own riders under their hooves. Falcona fell to her knees, and it was all she could do to fend off the panicked animals.
The drums fell quiet as the full light of morning broke into the courtyard. Sister Madalena and Sister Taresa sobbed over Brother Esteban, and beyond them men rushed to help the injured by the gate. Boys calmed the frightened horses and brought them under control, and the cries behind Falcona quieted.
Falcona knelt alone among it all. She wrapped herself in her own arms and shuddered from pain and exhaustion, and when she looked up she found one of the downed riders' looking back at her with a dead stare. His back was broken and his body was twisted.
"I'll lose the battle some day," the Red Witch told the dead man, "but it won't be this day."
* * *
The author would like to thank LoquiSordidaAdMe for his helpful comments