have business to attend to in Luskan," Morik complained. "So many things I have set in place - connections and deals - and now, because of you and your friends, all of that will be for naught."

"But you will enjoy the long winter's night," Bellany said with a wicked grin. She curled seductively on the pile of furs.

"That is of no ... well, there is that," Morik admitted, shaking his head. "And my protest has nothing to do with you - you do understand that."

"You talk way too much," the woman replied, reaching for the small man.

"I ... I mean, no this cannot be! Not now. There is my business - "



Bellany grinned, rolled over, and stretched. Morik's protests had to wait for some time. Later on, though, the rogue from Luskan was right back at it, complaining to Bellany that her little side trip here was going to cost him a king's treasure and more.

"Unavoidable," the sorceress explained. "I had to bring you here, and winter came early."

"And I am not allowed to leave?"

"Leave at your will," Bellany replied. "It is a long, cold road - do you think you'll survive all the way back to Luskan?"

"You brought me here, you take me back."

"Impossible," the sorceress said calmly. "I can not teleport such distances. That spell is beyond me. I could conjure the odd magical portal for short distances perhaps, but not enough to skip our way to Luskan. And I do not like the cold, Morik. Not at all."

"Then Sheila Kree will have to find a way to take me home," Morik declared, pulling his trousers on - or at least trying to. As he brought the pants up over his ankles, Bellany waved her hand and cast a simple spell to bring about a sudden breeze. The gust was strong enough to push the already off-balance Morik backward, causing him to trip and fall.

He rolled and put his feet under him, rising, stumbling back to his knees, then pulling himself up and turning an indignant stare over the woman.

"Very humorous," he said grimly, but as soon as he spoke the words, Morik noted the look on Bellany's face, one that showed little humor.

"You will go to Sheila Kree and demand that she take you home?" the sorceress asked.

"And if I do?"

"She will kill you," Bellany stated. "Sheila is not overly fond of you, my friend, and in truth she desires you gone from here as much as you desire to be gone. But she'll spare no resources to do that, unless it is the short journey for one of her pet ogres to toss your lifeless body into the frigid ocean waters.

"No, Morik, understand that you would do well to remain unobtrusive and quietly out of Sheila's way," Bellany went on. ''Bloody Keel will sail in the spring, and likely along the coast. We'll put you ashore not so far from Luskan, perhaps even in port, if we can be certain Deudermont's not lying in wait for us there."

"I will be a pauper by then."

"Well, if you are still rich, and wish to die that way, then go to Sheila with your demands," the sorceress said with a laugh. She rolled over, wrapping herself in the furs, burying even her head to signal Morik that this conversation was at its end.

The rogue stood there staring at his lover for a long while. He liked Bellany - a lot - and believed that a winter of cuddling beside her wouldn't be so bad a thing. There were several other women there as well, including a couple of quite attractive ones, like Jule Pepper. Perhaps Morik might find a bit of challenge this season!

The rogue shook that thought out of his head. He had to be careful with such things, while in such tight and inescapable quarters beside such formidable companions. Woe to him if he angered Bellany by making a play for Jule. He winced as he considered the beating this beautiful sorceress might put on him. Morik had never liked wizards of any type, for they could see through his disguises and stealth and could blast him away before he ever got close to them. To Morik's way of thinking, wizards simply didn't fight fair.

Yes, he had to be careful not to evoke any jealousies.

Or perhaps that was it, Morik mused, considering Sheila's obvious disdain. Perhaps the fiery pirate didn't approve of Bellany's companion because she was trapped here as well, and with no one to warm her furs.

A wry smile grew on Morik's face as he watched the rhythmic breathing of sleeping Bellany.

"Ah, Sheila," he whispered, and he wondered if he would even want to go home after spending some time with the captain, wondered if he might not find an even greater prosperity right here.

* * * * * * * * * * * * *

Chogurugga stalked about her huge room angrily, throwing furniture and any of the smaller ogres and half-ogres who were too slow to get out of her way.

"Bathunk!" the ogress wailed repeatedly. "Bathunk, where you be?" The ogress's prized son had gone out from the home to lead a raiding party, an expedition that was supposed to last only three or four days, but now nearly a tenday had passed, with no word from the young beast.

"Snow deep," said a composed Bloog from the side of the room, lying back on a huge hammock - a gift from Sheila Kree - his massive legs hanging over, one on either side.

Chogurugga raced across the room, grabbed the side of the hammock, and dumped Bloog onto the stone floor. "If me learn that you hurt - "

"Bathunk go out," Bloog protested, keeping his calm, though whether that was because he didn't want to lash out at his beautiful wife or because he didn't want to laugh at her hysteria, the ogress could not tell. "Him come back or him not. Bloog not go out."

The logic, simple enough for even Chogurugga to grasp, did not calm the ogress, but turned her away from Bloog at least. She rushed across the room, wailing for Bathunk.

In truth, her son had been late in returning from raiding parties many times, but this time was different. It wasn't just the fierce storm that had come up. This time, Chogurugga sensed that something was terribly amiss. Disaster had befallen her beloved Bathunk.

He wouldn't be coming home.

The ogress just knew it.

* * * * * * * * * * * *

Morik grinned widely and pulled a second goblet, another beautiful silver and glass piece, out of the small belt pouch on his right hip, placing it in front of Sheila Kree on the table between them.

Sheila regarded him with an amused expression and a nod, bidding him to continue.

Out of the pouch next came a bottle of Feywine - itself much too big to fit in the small pouch, let alone beside a pair of sizeable goblets.

"What else ye got in yer magical pouch, Morik the Rogue?" Sheila asked suspiciously. "Does Bellany know ye got that magic about ye?"

"Why would it concern her, dear, beautiful Sheila?" Morik asked, pouring a generous amount of the expensive liquor into Sheila's cup and a lesser amount into his own. "I am no threat to anyone here. A friend and no enemy."

Sheila smirked, then brought her goblet up so fast for a big swallow that some wine splashed out the sides of the drinking vessel and across her ruddy face. Hardly caring, the pirate banged the goblet back to the table, then ran an arm across her face.

"Would any enemy e'er say different?" she asked, simply. "Don't know o' many who'd be calling themselfs a foe when they're caught."

Morik chuckled. "You do not approve of Bellany bringing me here."

"Have I ever gived ye a different feeling?"

"Nor do you approve of Bellany's interest in my companionship," Morik dared to say.

When Sheila winced slightly and shifted in her seat, Morik knew he'd hit a nerve. Bolstered by the thought that Sheila's gruffness toward him might be nothing more than jealousy - and to confident Morik's way of thinking, why should it not be? - the rogue lifted his goblet out toward the pirate leader in toast.

"To a better understanding of each other's worth," he said, tapping Sheila's cup.

"And a better understanding of each other's desires," the pirate replied, her smirk even wider.

Morik grinned as well, considering how he might turn this one's fire into some wild pleasures.

He didn't get what he bargained for.

Morik staggered out of Sheila's room a short while later, his head throbbing from the left hook the pirate had leveled his way while still wearing that smirk of hers. Confused by Sheila's violent reaction to his advance - Morik had sidled up to her and gently brushed the back of his hand across her ruddy cheek - the rogue muttered a dozen different curses and stumbled across the way toward Bellany's room. Morik wasn't used to such treatment from the ladies, and his indignation was clear to the sorceress as she opened the door and stood there, blocking the way.

"Making love with a trapped badger?" the grinning Bellany asked.

"That would have been preferable," Morik replied and tried to enter the room. Bellany, though, kept her arm up before him, blocking the way.

Morik looked at her quizzically. "Surely you are not jealous."

"You seem to have a fair estimation of your worth to so definitely know that truth," she replied.

Morik started to respond, but then the insult registered, and he stopped and gave a little salute to the woman.

"Jealous?" Bellany asked skeptically. "Hardly that. I would have thought you'd have bedded Jule Pepper by now, at least. You do surprise me with your taste, though. I didn't think you were Sheila Kree's type, nor she yours."

"Apparently your suspicions are correct," the rogue remarked, rubbing his bruised temple. He started ahead again, and this time Bellany let him move past her and into the room. "I suspect you would have had more luck in wooing that one."

"Took you long enough to figure that one out," Bellany replied, closing the door as she entered behind the rogue.

Morik fell upon a bed of soft furs and rolled to cast a glance at the grinning sorceress. "A simple word of warning?" he asked. "You could not have done that for me beforehand?"

"And miss the fun?"

"You did not miss much," said Morik, and he held his arms out toward her.

"Do you need your wound massaged?" Bellany asked, not moving. "Or your pride?"

Morik considered the question for just a moment. "Both," he admitted, and, her smile widening even more, the sorceress approached.

"This is the last time I will warn you," she said, slipping onto the bed beside him. "Tangle with Sheila Kree, and she will kill you. If you are lucky, I mean. If not, shell likely tell Chogurugga that you have amorous designs over her."

"The ogress?" asked a horrified Morik.

"And if your coupling with that one does not kill you, then Bloog surely will."

Bellany edged in closer, trying to kiss the man, but Morik turned away, any thoughts of passion suddenly flown.

"Chogurugga," he said, and a shudder coursed his spine.

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