tagSci-Fi & FantasyThe Florist Ch. 04: Herlesh

The Florist Ch. 04: Herlesh


The next trip back to Tsibili promised to be quiet. The break suited my just fine—it gave me time to nurse my burnt hand. Well, not really my entire hand but only a portion of it.

Fine. Truth be told it was the pads at the tips of my thumb and forefinger. Still, it hurt. And that is exactly as I told Semonte, the herbal merchant, when I procured my burn ointment.

But I did save the piece. The glasstern "Weinotia" came with me from Gatekey and now graced my mantle. I had a strong suspicion that it would accompany me back to the foundry when I returned, too.

The knock startled me. I rose to answer the door. Her presence was unexpected, to say the least.

"Hello, Kelline."

"Herlesh? Why, hello."

"Surprised, Florist?" She wore a tiny smirk that I could not quite read.

"Not in the least," I fibbed smoothly, proud of myself for covering so well.

"Hmm, yes, you are a very poor liar."

I stood for a moment, noted the twinkle in her eye, and chuckled.

"Guilty as charged."

Herlesh laughed with me, then got to the point. "I heard from Semonte that you received a nasty burn."

"Yes, and— Please forgive my ill manners. Will you come inside, please?"

"Thank you, yes."

I stood aside and Herlesh moved past me. My mind lingered on her scent. She continuing her explanation without noticing.

"Well, I asked what he gave you for it and he told me mud bee honey."

"He did, and at a good price, too."

"Yes, I am sure. You know mud bee honey does nothing for deep burns?"


"It helps soothe some burns, like those caused by too much time under the summer sun. But not glasstern burns."

"Damn . . ."

"I assumed it was glasstern."

"It was." I motioned to a chair and she sat, while I took a place on the couch next to her seat. "I almost dropped a piece and, when I caught it, it missed the hand cloth and touched two of my fingers. It was only a beat, but . . ." I shrugged.

"Please let me see it."

I held out my hand to her and she unwrapped the dressing. Her light, sure touch impressed me.

"I hope you know I did not bear you any malice," she murmured.

"You mean at the gathering?"

She nodded, eyes averted.

"No, Herlesh. In fact, it was wearing on me. The wondering if—when—I would be exposed. This arrangement, though unusual, is actually better. At least I—"

"Is this all?" She sounded surprised.

"Er, yes."

"My goodness, how old are you? You look older than seven fourteen-moons."

"It hurts!"


"Am not." It sounded whiny, even to me.

"Are, too," she laughed. Herlesh rummaged in her hipsack and pulled out a small vial. She uncorked it and a pungent odor filled the room. It smelled of sweet ale and incense, not unpleasant at all.

She upended the vial and the liquid oozed down the side until a drop, then another fell onto my thumb. Before another dripped out she had moved it to my forefinger. Even before she had me rub my fingers together my skin tingled, cooled and went numb.

"What is that miracle cure agent?" I marveled.

"It is a little something I have developed over the fourteens—"

I opened my mouth but she silenced me with a raised hand.

"Do not ask me what is in it, how I make it, or what I call it."

I slumped. "All right."

"You may bandage it or leave it open. I prefer open but you may find it more advantageous to cover it if you are doing chores or are otherwise busy with, your . . . hands." She began to laugh and, after I caught her meaning, I joined her.

She capped the vial and left it on the table for me.

"Thank you, Herlesh. You did not have to go to any trouble."

"It was no trouble, Kelline, believe me." She smiled warmly at me before her expression faded to something more serious.

"Herlesh, is there something on your mind?"

"No, Florist. Not really."

"Hmm, now who is the poor liar?" I chuckled, but she did not join in my mirth or show any sign of appreciating my wit. "Herlesh?"

"I, I have a . . ." she began. She took a deep breath, squared her shoulders and plunged ahead. "Kelline, I have been a midwife and healer for many fouteens. I have delivered babies, counselled women and couples, and have helped the lovelorn." She paused.

"And I have only heard good reports of you on all accounts," I added into the silence. I hoped it would encourage her.

Herlesh gave a small, perhaps appreciative smile, but her eyes still seemed sad to me. "I have seen many lovers, Kelline, but I have never been one." She folded her hands and looked at them. I did, too, and watched as her knuckled whitened in response to some internal struggle.

"Kelline, I am neither betrothed nor promised. Like you, I am a slave to my calling. But I desperately want to know physical love." She sighed again and looked into my eyes at last. The pain in her dark brown irises haunted me.


How could I refuse?

"Herlesh, there are some questions I have." Her shoulders relaxed and she sat back in the thick upholstery. Her eyes softened and she grew attentive.

"Have you prepared?"

"I have lived a while, Kelline. Nature prepared me long ago."

"And you are neither betrothed not promised, as you said?"

She shook her head once. "Neither."

"I have only been trained in the techniques of 'Sprinkling Rain.' Is that sufficient?"

"Kelline, while you are the nearest Florist, you are not the only one I know within my travels. I am talking with you because you have been trained in 'Sprinkling Rain'."

The interview lasted another quarter bell before we agreed. Herlesh had three more visits, but none involved any births. She estimated being done and able to return in four bells, perhaps less.

I saw her to the door, thanked her for the medication, and began planning our interlude.

* * * * * * *

At the sound of the door I answered it. It was the second time I was surprised.

I had only seen Herlesh in her work garb. The robes of a midwife and healer were practical but not the least stylish. But the woman who stood before me looked nothing like a midwife.

Herlesh normally wore a drape that kept her head covered. But now her golden hair curled to her shoulders and pulsed with vibrancy in the light breeze of evening. Her eyes and lips were adorned, but with a subtlety that could easily go unnoticed. Her drab robe had been exchanged for a slanted neckline that exposed one shapely shoulder and decolletage. A timely wind pressed the thin fabric to her chest and allowed me to guess at her breasts. The shimmering material was dark enough to accentuate her hair and skin color. The dress hugged her waist and the hem flared to good effect. Her legs, from what I could see, bore the lean muscle of someone who traveled often by foot.

By the time I was finished with my assessment and looked at Herlesh in the face once more, I stammered, "I seem to have forgotten my manners yet again." She appeared nervous and uncertain. "You look a lovely vision, Herlesh. Please come in and be comfortable."

"Thank you." Some of her lively spirit appeared to have been failed her at the moment. I wanted to put her at ease.

"I have some very nice game swine roasting and a very smooth brandy berry cider. Or would you like to begin with some harvestlings and blossom ale first?"

"If we could sit for a little while, I would sip some brandy berry cider."

"Warm or chilled?"

"Oh, warmed, please."

"It will take only a few beats." We had slowly made our way to the main room and I motioned for Herlesh to settle into the couch. "I will be back very soon."

I warmed enough for two smallish glasses each and refilled the kettle. It remained on a low heat while I took the setting out for us.

"Here you are," I announced with a little theatrics. "You sure I cannot interest you in something to eat?"

"In a while, yes. For now, I need to get over my nervousness."

"And why are you nervous?" I inquired as I took a seat at the other end of the sofa.

She sipped her cider, and stalled with, "This is excellent."

I sampled my own, and nodded, "Well, Semonte may not vend the best medications, but he does offer a very fine cider."

She took a longer sip, and nodded, "That he does, the rapscallion. But leave the healing to a professional, eh?" We shared a smile.

"When I let him know mud bee honey was not best for the type of burns I suffered—"


"The burns I suffered, he gave me this vintage at a very good price." We smiled at each other.

"So . . .?"

"So," she answered. "I am nervous. I am nervous because this has been building in my mind for a very long time. I am nervous because I do not know if I will like it. I am nervous because I do not know if you will like it. I am nervous because the whole thing may end up as a huge disappointment. And I am nervous because I am nervous." She sighed, and gulped her cider. I rose, touched her shoulder on my way to the kettle, refilled our mugs and returned. I felt she needed a little more time. And a little more cider.

Herlesh nodded her thanks and raised the glasstern to the light. "An exceptional color. And did you make this?"

"No, one of my foundry mates did. I liked it so much that I bought the entire service. Four mugs and the decanter." I lofted my own mug and stated, "He really does beautiful work."

"Indeed, he does . . ."

"And speaking of beauty—"

"Do you think that will really work on me, Kelline?"

"No, but your blush tells me it did."

She scowled, but her eyes danced. We drank our cider in an amicable silence.

Herlesh scanned the room, then out the window.

"You have a nice view. The stars are lovely from here."

"And your reflection in that window is lovely as well."

"Kelline," she warned.

"Herlesh, listen to me for a little, please."

She sighed, took a last swallow of cider and set down her mug. She faced me.

"No, please, look at your reflection."

She sighed again, blinked and turned towards the panes.

"Can you see how the firelight catches in your tresses? Or the subtle muscle tone and curve of your bare shoulder? Perhaps you can recognize how the understated choice of makeup brings out the color of your eyes and compliments your gown. You are truly a lovely woman."

"And you cannot see the wrinkles at my eyes in this reflection. I can see them in my mirror at home."

"Your face has character and is all the more appealing and gorgeous for it. I imagine you have led an interesting and full life, with stories and adventures that anyone would envy." I noticed her hair shimmered, alternating between the colors of sun-setting and dawning.

"I do not know about, 'envy,' but I have had my share of life." She leaned back into the sofa with a last glance at her reflected self. She sported a little smile as she looked at me.

"How was it?"

"How was what?" I drained my mug. "Would you care for more cider?"


"I will only be a few beats." I carried the set into the kitchen.

She called to me, "How was losing yourself? Turning your back on your calling?"

Her tone was curious, the way a child can be curious, and meant no ill will or insult. I took it at face value.

"Well, it was . . . well, I have to admit, it felt pretty damned good."

"Good for you!"

I set the tray on the table and served us more cider. "Thanks."

"Thank you," she told me, toasting me with her mug. I watched her slide more cider down her throat and we both grinned.

She fixed me with a gaze and asked, "Kelline, why did you?" Herlesh must have noticed my shift in mood. She added quickly, "I am sorry to intrude—"

"No, it was a while ago, and you asked a legitimate question."

"You need not answer—"

"I was betrothed . . ."

She nodded for me to go on with the explanation.

"But when she found out about the life of a Florist . . ." I shrugged.

"I understand."

She said it in a way that made me believe her, in a way that made me feel for her. I realized we shared a deeper emotion, a longing that neither one of us was likely to fulfill.

"Are you of appetite yet?"

"Indeed, but I hate to waste the glow of your fine cider."

"It is quite all right—I have another vintage or two, and some very nice blossom ale as well."

She stood and smoothed her skirt. "Please lead the way."

So I did. I lead Herlesh to the dining table. I led her though the meal while we took out time, savored the food and drink, and I grew to admire and respect her. And at last, near the ten-eight bell, I led her to my bed.

She studied a litho as I came up behind her. When I pressed myself to her back she trembled.

"Kelline, I am very nervous. I do not quite know what is wrong with me tonight . . ."

"There is nothing wrong with you tonight, or any other night that I know of, so please relax. Here," I suggested, "is this to your liking?" I let my hands caress her shoulders, let my fingers probe softly at the muscles there.

"Mmm, that is indeed. But if you could knead me with your thumbs a little lower and closed to my spine—oh, goodness!"

"There?" I grinned, already knowing the answer.

"You whelp, that is exquisite."

I massaged the smooth skin of her back and shoulders for a bit longer, then leaned forward to kiss the side of her neck. I nibbled higher until my lips and tongue reached behind her left ear. I traced the rim and suckled her lobe. She shuddered and her skin prickled into a sea of tiny bumps.

"Mmm, divine . . ." she sighed.

My hands continued stroking down along her arms and I ventured towards her chest. The outline of her breasts became my route, avoiding the sensitive buds to enliven the swell of her. For a woman of her age, she was amazingly smooth, toned and firm. Her skin was soft and delicate, but the woman beneath bore some real strength.

I let my left hand continue to wander while I slipped my right into her silken hair behind her right ear. I pressed until she turned her head towards me and I kissed her mouth.

Her lips tasted of warm cider, roasted swine and spices. When she parted her lips to me I palmed her breast.

"Mmm!" she moaned into the kiss. Her breath caught and her body shuddered. My fingers sought her tip through the shimmering fabric and I found it had already hardened. As I plucked and toyed, it became more erect and Herlesh breathed harder and faster.

She turned into me and my hand slithered across her chest until her other globe rested in my grip. I lavished the same treatment on it as its twin, and Herlesh's kiss deepened. My free hand stroked down her back until I was able to press her hips to mine. We stood, kissing, while I fondled her body.

"Oh, Kelline, your arousal . . ."

"It is because of you," I whispered.

"And the oatwort," she teased back.

I swatted her rump playfully.

"Oh, my, you forward fellow. Oh, that, mmm . . ."

She had pressed herself to my swollen manhood. As she moved her hips I thought I felt heat where we touched.

Her eyes had glazed, and a fire glowed deep within them. She kissed me with a rising passion that surprised and delighted me.

Her nipple rolled between my fingertips; it could not have been any harder and her bottom could not have been any firmer. I began hiking up her skirt until I felt her warm flesh. Her arms encircled my neck and she breathed quick and shallow through her nostrils. When I bunched her skirt at her waist and squeezed her naked flesh we both shuddered.

She pulled at the neckline of her dress and slipped it over her shoulder until there was nothing separating my palm from her breast. I paused to gaze at her, the dark pink of her aroused nipple and pebbly areola topped a lovely breast the size and shape of a large rice bun. I pulled on her tip and heard her gasp.

"Did I hurt—?"

"Oh, no, please, more . . ."

My shirt came off and I removed her dress. I draped both over the back of a nearby chair and when I turned back Herlesh was covering herself with her hands. I smiled.

"You are hiding a rare beauty, but I would guess you want more for this night."

She looked at me with uncertainty and, perhaps, a nagging fear.

"Herlesh, you asked me for 'more' only a few beats ago. Is that still your wish?"

She nodded and closed her eyes. Her arms relaxed and stilled at her sides. I felt the weight of her surrender and vowed to make our time together more than she wished.

I knelt and placed my mouth on her breast, tasting her skin and feeling the taut firmness of her sensitive tip. Both my hands grasped her behind, kneading and probing. Her hips rolled against my chest as I licked and sipped at her. Herlesh cradled my head to her breast with both of her hands tangled in my hair, and the first smear of her deep arousal painted my pectorals.

"Oh, that is divine, truly divine," she murmured.

"Wait," I promised. Then I slid to the floor until my eyes were level with her femininity. Again I marveled at the fine condition of her body.

She bore a thin knap of curls—the hue of sparkling ale—that struggled to conceal her flaring petals. I steadied her hips with gentle palms and leaned forward. Glancing up from my alluring vantage, I saw Herlesh staring at me. Her eyes were wide, her lips parted in anticipation. I smiled and she returned the expression, saying, "Please."

We maintained our unflinching gaze as my mouth neared her. My touch was soft, tentative, as I watched for her reaction.

Herlesh shuddered and sighed. I took that as a sign to continue and let my tongue curve into her. It split the softness, rewarding me with her lusciousness. She leaned against the wall, gaining leverage at the same time.

As I tasted higher and higher, she rolled her eyes back, closed them and leaned her hips into my exploration. I felt her hands on my head, felt her increased pressure against my face, felt her body shiver, and felt her melt, quivering, into my tongue.

My hands encircled her and squeezed her muscled backside. She continued pressing my head to her, and her sighs morphed into gasps.

"Oh, Kelline, my, my breasts . . ." She freed one hand and cupped her chest. Herlesh shivered anew.

Pausing for only a beat, I urged her, "Touch yourself in this rhythm." My lips and tongue returned to her, settling into a steady cadence that matched the thudding of my heart.

She palmed herself, explored the curve of herself with searching fingertips. I watch her movements become bolder and felt my own heartrate increase. It throbbed in my erection as well, so it was an easy matter to lick Herlesh with a predictable rhythm; my whole body resonated with it.

She reached for her other mound and brushed the swelling tip.

"Oh, oh, my . . ."

She peered at the hardened nub and rolled it between her thumb and forefinger. She hissed and her pelvis shuddered. I surrounded her nether tip and sipped it between my lips.


Her eyes lidded again, her head lolled back against the wall, and she slid tighter to my face.

Her hips were rolling freely now, just as she was flowing freely now. She coated me with her essence, although I did my best to collect each and every droplet of her. The manner in which her delicate folds glided across my mouth and the change in her breathing—shallower, faster—had a growing effect on me. As her arousal rose, I redoubled my efforts, which further heightened her response. We were in a rising spiral that could only reach one possible resolution.

The only question was, "How profound?"

Herlesh had curled into me. She tugged on her right nipple until it flushed. Her breathing was a series of short, sharp gasps interspersed with two or three beats of silence. I reach from behind her and slithered a long finger into the headwaters of her.

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