Mobilize erotica

Chapter 12

Koal rushed down the steps of the main stairwell as he buckled his sword belt around his waist, Celestia following quickly just behind him as the two met up with their companions in the foyer on the bottom floor.

"What is it?" Koal asked, looking over to Gerard as he pulled his tattered red cloak on over his shoulders and tied it around the broach at his neck.

"Scouts just came in, come on, they are waiting in the throne room." Gerard said and together Koal and his party walked up the short, carpeted steps leading up into the throne room to find Blade seated in his throne while Karyn and a number of other military officers stood at the base of the throne platform facing him.

He wore a rather blank, brooding look about him as he narrowed his eyes, his chin resting in his hand as he listened to the proceedings. "Ah Koal, there you are. Come on in, get cozy, the scouts were about to deliver their report." Blade motioned for Koal and the others to come in.

"We estimate several thousand men, heading in multiple columns. Their forces are a mix of humans flying Queen Petra's Imperial banner as well as a number of Draconian soldiers. More Draconians than humans, but there is still a sizable amount of Imperials with them." One of the black-clad scouts stated as all eyes, save for Blade's, seemingly fixed on him.

"What else?" Asked Karyn. She was wearing her immaculate black and white military uniform, as always she was sharp and ready to go.

"Very little cavalry, and I do mean, very little, they have no assembled siege engines either and seem to be making very good time because of this. I think they are making a fast march with the units they had ready in an attempt to catch us off guard and overwhelm us. But they are still a few days off, even at their current pace, a week if the weather shifts."

Karyn frowned. "Any additional columns?"

"None that we've seen sir. We have men strung out in relays between the Draconian and Imperial borders in the outlands, if any additional troops come through, we'll know it."

"They're desperate to get the gem back." Observed Koal.

"We spotted something else too, a large black shape, some of the men reported it to be a great black dragon, I didn't see it myself Sire, but my men are reliable, if they say there is a serpent, I believe them."

Blade grinned broadly and sat up straight. "Ahh that is what I wanted to hear. With a dragon, or more accurately, a transcended interdimensional being at their backs, they are hoping to tear the walls and the keep right down and just march right in. Right well, we can't let them get too close to the city, don't want them to raze it or worse, occupy it and harm any of the citizens there."

Slowly, Blade stood, a grim smile fixed on his lips. "Mustang's forces will occupy the city and set up some fortifications at the entrances and the ports. I wouldn't worry about them attacking you, but just in case... Meanwhile, I'll take my men, plus whatever reserves the Queen didn't take with her on campaign and I will ride down their forces on open ground. And, Gods willing, I will get a piece of that dragon."

Blade paced up and down the throne platform for a moment, his staff frantically scribbling down and handing out orders to be taken down the ranks to mobilize the army and defenses.

"Koal, if you would be so kind, stay here and guard the Gem, we'll lock it in my dungeon in the lower levels. Karyn will be in charge of defending the castle; your people will run support."

Karyn had remained silent and still during the proceedings but her eyes suddenly widened in shock at that announcement. She blinked, a bit baffled and then quickly collected herself, nodding her head coolly. "Yes Sire." She said, giving a slight, respectful bow.

Koal could see the glimmer of pride in Blade's eyes as he grinned at the girl.

"Alright everyone. We leave tomorrow morning, make whatever preparations you need to, you know your jobs. Check in with me as needed, consider us at war with the Draconian and Western Empire until this affair is settled. Show no mercy to the Imperials or their Dragon-like friends." With that Blade sunk back down onto his throne, his Generals saluting with a fist over their heart before turning to leave along with their entourage of attendants.

"I've never been in a war before. Well, a proper war. Border skirmishes, no more than a couple hundred men at best." Koal said, letting his left hand rest on the grip of his sword as he scowled.

"Just imagine the chaos amplified a thousand times. Even organized, highly trained troops cause an unsightly amount chaos. Don't worry about it, I'll take the reins here, I taught you siege warfare, protect the walls and the people behind them and worry about nothing else. You'll do just fine, I have the utmost faith in you and your party as well as General Karyn, it'll be fine."

"I don't doubt it." Koal smiled.

"Right, well, where is the gem? Can I have it?" Blade looked up at the group and Victoria shot a glance at Koal who merely nodded.

The thief reached into a large leather pouch at the small of her back and produced the fist-sized gem, walking it over to Blade before dropping it lightly into his outstretched hand.

Blade scowled and moved his hand as if weighing the gem before he shook his head in disgust. "All of this over a fuckin' rock."

"I think after we've killed Lady Nala, we will be able to destroy the gem. If we tried it now, well, it's sealed with incredibly powerful magic; it could be catastrophic to say the least." Moira said, stepping forward to stand at Koal's side.

"Once we kill the being connected to it we should be able to smash this. Sounds about right, fucking ethereal assholes wandering into different planes where they have no business being." Blade sighed and tossed the stone to Narissa who easily caught with both hands.

"Narissa and I will take the gem downstairs now." Blade said, rising from the throne as he picked up the black-bladed katana that was propped up against the armrest, pushing it through his belt.

Koal noticed Narissa's eyes seductively narrowing at the invitation as she bit her lower lip and he eyed the woman for a moment before Blade spoke again.

"Moira, you're more than welcome to join us, I have a feeling a lot of, magic, will be involved." Narissa said, grinning coyly.

"Whatever man." Moira rolled her eyes and followed Blade and Narissa back to the stairwell, leaving their companions behind in the throne room.

"Is it just me or is something bad about to happen?" Koal frowned as his companions all eagerly nodded their head in agreement.

"Bitch bit off more than she can chew." Victoria shrugged her shoulders. "Ahh well, let's go in the courtyard and play with our new toys some more!"

* * *

"Aren't you rich now Blade? Can't afford anything more than torches for your corridors?" Moira scoffed as the trio made their way into the levels below the Keep. It was murky and black, the only light provided by torches burning in the occasional scone. Moira reached up and adjusted the top of her staff, the crystal suddenly burning to life with a warm glow that cast light all around them.

"It's a dungeon Moira; even used recreationally it isn't supposed to be a happy place." Blade said, no doubt with a scowl, Moria imagined as he led them deeper into the sublevel.

"That is a matter of opinion." Narissa murmured, licking her lips.

Moira shivered and pulled her robes a little tighter around herself, the cold rarely bothered her, even as nearly naked as she was under her almost never closed robe. Rain, sleet, snow, none of it bothered her, probably because she was elf, but this cold down in the dungeons, it was, different...

"Why the fuck is it so cold down here?" Moira shivered, rubbing her arms together.

"It's intentional, an enchantment makes it nice and cold down here, no better way to demoralize and break one's spirit." Blade grinned slightly.

The steps seemed to zigzag, leading down twenty or so feet before turning at a 90 degree angle and then going down again. The first level, Blade explained, was the regular dungeon, used as a prison when there was a need for it. Deeper down however, they passed a second door. This one, Blade explained, was the Queen's dungeon and private lair, a place where she could practice her darker and more... unique proclivities.

Moira was sure their journey down took less than minute, but for some reason, it felt like the descent into the bottom levels took an hour, if not longer. Something wasn't right, she knew he was a vampire, but he was never adept with more than simple spells from what she remembered. Just what the hell was he dabbling in down here?

The trio stood at a broad wooden door with a rounded top, secured by a sturdy lock, Blade merely pushed it open, the door swinging open to reveal a room dimly lit by two braziers burning with magical flame that lit the room, but surprisingly, radiated no heat.

"Home sweet home, come on in, do close the door behind you Narissa my darling." Blade crossed the room, in the center of it was a massive white bearskin rug laid out before a deep black leather arm chair, positioned between the two braziers.

Moira jumped slightly as she heard the door shut and whirled around, seeing Narissa leaning back against it as she turned the lock with a resounding click, her purple predatory eyes seeming to smile back at the mage.

Blade moved to the far wall and reached out to a spot that was about level with his waist and pushed on a stone, one of hundreds that made up the walls, foundations and floor, it pushed inward and there was a click, another nearby stone swinging outwards toward them. It was big enough for the gem and Blade placed it inside, resetting the release before he shut the hidden compartment.

"I doubt anyone would make it all the way down here to steal the hidden gem undetected, even if the scaly bitch can sense it. And, if by some miracle the dragon comes through and tears down the entire fortress, then the gem will be buried under tons and tons of stone and mortar, so we still win." Blade slowly rolled up the sleeves of his loose-fitting black dress shirt as he looked up to the pair of elves.

Moira felt a chill run up her spine and she glanced back at Narissa who had her eyes narrowed at Blade, a glazed expression on her features as her chest rapidly rose and fell.

"Well then." Blade said, Moria's attention snapping back to him. "About our agreement Narissa?"

"Yes, My Lord." Was Narissa's soft reply, her voice a seductive hiss echoing in the darkness of Blade's lair.

"What the fuck is going on?!" Moria glanced at Blade and turned to face Narissa, the mage caught a flicker of movement from her dark elf companion before everything suddenly turned black...


When Moira next came to, her head felt a bit fuzzy and very slowly she opened her eyes, becoming quickly aware that she was both bound and gagged. A leather bit was in her mouth, the cold steel rings digging into her soft cheeks and the corner of her mouth, the whole thing fastened behind her head. Her hands were shackled in cuffs lined with plush, forgiving rabbit fur, the cuffs attached to a long, smooth bar that kept her arms held apart above her head. Likewise, her ankles were cuffed; her legs spread wide open and held by a bar.

Somehow, none of this surprised her, what was surprising was, aside from her robe, she was still fully clothed. Well, if a skimpy bikini top and bottom with thigh high leather boots passed for fully dressed, and for her, it did. Moira looked up to see that she was on the edge of the white bearskin rug and the bars binding her arms were attached to a rope that vanished in the darkness above her head.

"You look adorable wriggling around like a worm on a hook."

Moira glanced up and narrowed her eyes, her pupils shone with crackling blue energy as she stared daggers at Blade.

Blade was seated in the arm chair flanked by the braziers, he was nude, his pale, muscular body littered with scars from countless battles, both from his mortal life and every day since. There were a pair of elves kneeling on the floor, one was obviously Narissa, her dark skin and contrasting snow-white hair being a dead giveaway, and another, this one a forest elf with a small frame and long, flowing locks of luscious brown that curled nearly to her waist. And, much like herself, Narissa and Victoria, Elise's dark brown nipples glinted with a pair of bejeweled piercings.

She was, Moira figured, at least seven months pregnant, as indicated by the swelled, round stomach that was prominent on her otherwise thin, hourglass frame. This had to have been the Elise that Blade mentioned earlier, one of the only members of the Order of Desoul that Moira and her companions had not yet met.

Both Narissa and Elise were eagerly lapping up and down the length of Blade's stiff cock, making it glisten with their combine saliva, their tongues just slowly lapping from base to tip as Elise cradled and gently rubbed her Master's hot, heavy balls while Narissa had her middle finger buried to the knuckle inside of his ass, slowly wiggling the tip around against his sensitive prostate.

"Oh don't look so pissy, this wasn't my idea." Blade said, leaning his head back as he let out a hot, breathless sigh as the two eager elves moved their mouths faster - their pink, slippery tongues lapping at his cock like it was a honey covered treat. "I offered Narissa here a gift, but in order to accept it, she would need someone to aid her with the... transition. She could have chosen Celestia or Victoria, or hell, even one of my girls, but she insisted that it was you."

Moira's eyes snapped over to her companion and Narissa's violet eyes seemed to glitter mischievously in the dim light as she glanced sideways at the helpless, bound mage. Narissa narrowed her eyes, almost like a predator about to pounce upon its prey and slowly winked at the mage, sending a shiver down the bound mage's spine. For the first time since regaining consciousness, Moria actually began to panic. The mage wiggled in her chains, pulling fruitlessly at her shackles and she rocked her body from side to side, no matter how she wiggled or squirmed or tugged, the bonds were securely in place, refusing to yield.

The elves moved in concert with one another as Elise audibly planted a series of warm kisses up the shaft of Blade's cock, leading to the tip which lapped at with her tongue, wiggling it back and forth beneath the head before she leaned forward and began tenderly sucking it into her mouth. As she did this, Narissa moved down, her dark lips blanketing his warm balls with her feather soft kisses, gradually working down where she spread open Blade's ass and leaned forward, eagerly lapping at his tight hole.

Both of the women serviced Blade rather enthusiastically, Elise was taking more and more of her Master's glistening cock into her mouth, her small hand still pawing at his balls as Narissa lapped quickly up and down between his soft cheeks, her wet, pink tongue lapping almost greedily at the man's ass.

"Good girls!" Blade hissed, one hand resting on the arm of the plush leather chair as the other reached down, the fingers of his left hand lacing into Elise's hair, gripping it as he allowed her to move her warm, wet mouth up and down at her leisure.

He was obviously enjoying himself, but what made Moira fidget and squirm was the fact that his eyes were locked, almost unblinkingly, on her the entire time. The sight of the sex was starting to make her tingle a little, and much to her disgust at her body's betrayal, she felt a warmth began to spread down her stomach and between her thighs, her soft little elven cunt throbbing gently as she relaxed in her bonds.

She wasn't happy, in fact far from it, but they were just trying to scare her. Vampire Warlord or not, if they did anything to her, Koal would see them dead, she knew this, they would be stupid to even try. She locked eyes with Blade, and the more she gazed back at him, the more she seemed to relax, her body slowly heating up despite the biting cold of the dark dungeon.

Elise's eyes flicked over towards Moria, almost knowingly as she grinned around her Master's cock and then suddenly bobbed her head faster, slurping noisily at his hard prick as her hand massaged his ever-tightening balls. Already she could taste his delicious precum coating her tongue as she sucked firmly on him, her tongue lashing relentless up and down against the swollen, throbbing head of his cock.

Blade tensed, and grunted, pushing Elise's face down into his lap as he lifted up his hips slightly, cuming hard into the hungry little elf's mouth. Her tongue rapidly massaged the underside of his shaft, sucking and lapping out every last drop of the thick, creamy cock milk that sprayed into her skilled, hungry mouth. After a moment, she slowly pulled her mouth off of his cock as Narissa sat up on her knees while Elise cupped her face, the two pressing their mouth's hard together as Elise pushed the thick load of unswallowed sperm into the dark elf's mouth.

The two women kissed, Elise's hands moving up to cup Narissa's pierced, heavy breasts while Narissa reached up with one hand, gently lacing her fingers in the woman's hair as the other fell down to squeeze her pert, girlish little ass. Blade and Moira for that matter, could see the thick frothy mess of sperm and saliva that the two swapped over and over again, the mixture sliding from one pink tongue to the other as the two enthusiastically kissed.

Eventually the two swallowed their shared treat and Blade gestured for Narissa who nodded and stood, moving over to Moira while Elise walked behind the large chair and wheeled out a simple, large rectangular trunk to her Master's side.

Narissa reached up and unbuckled the gag Moria was wearing the elf quickly sucking in a breath before she spit. "Why the fuck do you need me then?! Why don't you just use her for your little ritual?!" Moria demanded, eying the pregnant elf who sat on her knees on the plush, warm rug, her head resting on her Master's thigh as he slowly stroked her hair.

"Because she is pregnant, I'm not a monster for fuck's sake." Blade scowled and shook his head. "She'll help though, so don't be ungrateful, this could be much, much worse without responsible adult supervision."

"Ugh, you don't even want to know..." Elise said, speaking for the first time since entering the dungeon. She tilted her head, gently kissing her Master's thigh before nuzzling her cheek against it.

"This precious little gem of a slave can take punishment that would be a pit fiend to shame, so don't take her lightly." Blade reached down and gently tickled Elise's side, the elf giggling as she squirmed.

"Master, don't." She said, blushing shyly.

"Alright Narissa, come here." Blade said, crooking his finger for her to come forward, the dark elf immediately, and obediently sauntering over to Blade to stand just in front of him as Elise turned and rummaged around inside of the trunk.

Elise handed Blade a small bundle of something wrapped in satin and then rose and silently moved across the dungeon, vanishing into the darkness at one corner as the rope attached to the bar securing Moria's hands suddenly slackened, the elf slumping forward slightly until she was bent over, her arms slightly above her head and her ankles still spread apart by the bar.

Moira watched equal parts afraid, aroused and genuinely curious as Blade produced a small crystal that looked like a glass writing pen, it even had a small jar containing a dark, blood-red mixture of liquid that Blade dipped the crystal into. Narissa bit her lip as Blade slowly traced a pattern around her navel, it didn't hurt, but it felt strange and she could sense the dark magic that was at work, it made her skin prickle with a sense of danger, but it also made her warm cunt throb with excitement.

It is a structural inevitability that the libertarian voice is drowned out in democracy, and according to Lind it should be. Ever more libertarians are likely to agree. ‘Voice’ is democracy itself, in its historically dominant, Rousseauistic strain. It models the state as a representation of popular will, and making oneself heard means more politics. If voting as the mass self-expression of politically empowered peoples is a nightmare engulfing the world, adding to the hubbub doesn’t help. Even more than Equality-vs-Liberty, Voice-vs-Exit is the rising alternative, and libertarians are opting for voiceless flight. Patri Friedman remarks : “we think that free exit is so important that we’ve called it the only Universal Human Right.”

Gobo is a social media aggregator with filters you control. You can use Gobo to control what’s edited out of your feed, or configure it to include news and points of view from outside your usual orbit. Gobo aims to be completely transparent, showing you why each post was included in your feed and inviting you to explore what was filtered out by your current filter settings.

I’ll be playing Dishonored: Death of the Outsider , which we started today on Kotaku ’s Facebook page . (Spoilers: guys get mad when you jump on them. Maybe don’t jump on them a whole bunch.) It’s pretty cool so far, and I’m psyched to see more of it. Look for my thoughts on it early next week!

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(From the Charlotte Diamond mystery series)

"Look at that snow come down. It looks like we'll be socked in at the Peak Lodge. I'm sorry, Charlotte. It was inconsiderate for me to drag you along. It's no way for you to have to spend Christmas."

"Just being able to be in the same room with you on Christmas, even if across a banquet hall, is enough for me," Charlotte Diamond said. She snuggled up against the gorgeous woman she still couldn't believe she was with. Brenda Boynton—or Brandon, as her adoring movie fans knew her—was everything less than Charlotte, while still being very much more. She was ten years younger, maybe less than half Charlotte's bulk, and, despite having been a top box office movie actress, she didn't have the wear and tear on her that Charlotte did from her decades as a top FBI investigator.

Brenda looked out of the chugging train's window—already two hours late in pulling into Burlington station because of the drifting snow.

"If only I had known how demanding they would be before I'd said I'd attend the Christmas day dinner up at the lodge to help raise patron money for our new movie production, I would have begged off."

"It's OK, Brenda, it really is," Charlotte answered. "This isn't the first time we've had to be circumspect Your fans—and certainly your prospective production angels—don't want to know that your significant other is a dumpy old retired cop— female cop. You said yes before you knew Aaron would be squeamish for us to be a couple there. I'll just worship you from afar like everyone else."

"Maybe it will be snowing so hard on Mount Mansfield that no one will show up."

"I think we're the only ones who haven't helicoptered up. Vermont isn't that far from Manhattan. Anyway, I think your idea of a train ride in the snow is romantic. It's the first time we've been able to sleep together in public."

"Even with you complaining all night about the tight fit of the seat?" Brenda said, with one of her trademarked radiant smiles on her face.

"Being close beside you was worth the torture. Speaking of which, look at that young couple several rows up the car. They look like they are sitting in the same seat. And they are so entranced with each other that I don't think they even are aware it's snowing heavily out there."

"We can imagine that they are foreign agents, escaping from the authorities. She was shot in the escape and he's trying to get her across the border to Canada, where they'll be safe enough to go to a hospital and where he can deliver his secret—"

"I think we've both seen several versions of that movie, Brenda." Charlotte laughed. "I'm the one who's supposed to be the sleuth here and see something nefarious in every situation. But, look, they are preparing to disembark. So, they're getting out at Burlington too. We could skip that stuffy conclave up at the lodge altogether and spend Christmas tailing them."

But Charlotte had lost Brenda. The ageless actress had her compact out and was touching up what was already perfection, ready to step out of the train like she was stepping out of a band box onto a red carpet rather than having ridden cramped up beside Charlotte for most of the night leading into Christmas Eve.

Burlington station seemed deserted in the early hours of Christmas Eve. Charlotte and Brenda and the young couple they'd been talking about on the train were the only ones on the platform. The snow was falling so fast that the light shining through from the overhead street lights was dim and cast an eerie glow.

"Where is it?" Charlotte could hear the young woman ask of her male companion.

"The lodge said there would be a car to meet us," the young man answered.

"The lodge?" Brenda called out to them. "Would that be a van from the Peak Lodge on Mount Mansfield?"

"Yes, ma'am," the man answered.

"That's where we're going too. Let's check in the station house and—"

"It's not open yet," Charlotte said. "Ours was the last scheduled train until this afternoon. I checked the hours when we got off the train."

The four of them stood there in silence for several minutes, each lost in her or his thoughts, their icy breath combining in a cloud of vapor swirling up into the dim rays from the overhead lights.

The man pointed over to the street. "Look, a taxi."

It seemed to be the only animated object in a town not yet awake on Christmas Eve morning.

"Let's see if he'll take us all up to the lodge," Brenda said in that rich contralto voice of hers that made millions of theatergoers sigh with satisfaction. "We'll catch our deaths standing here waiting for the van."

* * * *

Forty-five minutes and not more than ten steep uphill miles later, they learned just how fast the mountain could be socked in. The four passengers huddled together with a world of white swirling outside the windows of the taxi, which had stopped in its track while the driver made a cell phone call.

"Yahup, I was afraid that was the case," he was saying into the telephone. "Can you make room for four? I've got a cousin there. I won't be doing any more taxiing today myself. I'll stay it out with him."

The four passengers waited in dread for him to finish his pleasantries over the phone and to hang up and give them the devastating news. None of them was impatient to hear it. As long as he didn't say it, there was hope of getting to the lodge.

"The road up the mountain is closed past Grant. I can get you there, though, and they'll put you up for the night. We'll have to see what tomorrow brings when tomorrow gets here."

The young lady in the backseat with the young man and Brenda began to sob softly, and the young man took her in his arms and rocked her gently.

Charlotte and Brenda exchanged concerned looks.

In Grant, which consisted of fewer than ten houses hanging onto the down-slope side of the mountain road, the taxi stopped in front of a bungalow that looked cheery enough. Smoke was coming out of the chimney, and Charlotte could see a lighted Christmas tree through a front porch and a picture window.

A Mrs. Claus look-alike by the name of Mrs. Maston greeted them at the door. Her elflike husband hovered behind her, moving chairs to try to make room in a small parlor that didn't have any more room. The decorated Christmas tree appeared to have soaked all of the room up.

"Welcome," Mrs. Maston clucked pleasantly as she pulled the half-frozen travelers into her warm foyer and the taxi driver tried to move past the group with a pile of suitcases. "I'm afraid we're a little tight for room, but we'll manage. We're delighted to have the company."

Charlotte could see into the small dining room, where the table was set for breakfast—for two—and she could just imagine how delighted the Mastons were to have four strangers—one sobbing quietly—in their laps on Christmas Eve.

"I'm sorry, we only have the two bedrooms," Mrs. Maston said, looking at the four strangers and trying to figure out how they properly aligned.

"That's quite all right with Charlotte and me," Brenda said in that smooth "it's just fine" tone she was able to command. "We can share a bed."

Charlotte squeezed Brenda's hand with hers and tried to suppress a happy smile. This will be far better than the lodge, she was thinking. She hoped Brenda was thinking the same.

This didn't seem to faze Mrs. Maston one bit. She turned to the couple.

And the young lady broke out in deeper sobs.

"There, there, dear," Mrs. Maston cooed. "let's get these wet coats off and come into the dining room for a cup of tea. And tell me what saddens you so."

In the dining room, the young man spoke for the two of them while they all sipped the most delicious tea Charlotte had ever tasted.

"We are set to be married up at the lodge tomorrow," he explained. "I've got orders to ship out of Boston for Afghanistan on the morning of the 27th, and we had to rush to get the license and arrangements set up for the shortest honeymoon on record."

"Oh, dear, dear, we must see what we can do about that. Stanley." Mrs. Maston was looking above their heads to her husband who had been hovering in the doorway to the parlor.

"Yes, dear. I'll make some calls."

Calls? Charlotte wondered. What could anyone do in this situation in a snowbound hamlet on the side of a mountain on Christmas Eve?

But the Mastons showed her what they could do.

"We'll need cookies and some punch," Mrs. Maston declared as she stood and smoothed down her apron. "You two lovebirds go into the parlor. Can you two ladies cook?"

Charlotte and Brenda looked at her dumbly, each equally embarrassed.

"I can read a recipe," Brenda said with one of her famous tinkling laughs.

"I can watch Brenda read a recipe," Charlotte chimed in.

"Good enough. Let's go to the kitchen and give Stanley some elbow room in here."

The elbow room allowed Mr. Maston to mobilize two village men to move the Christmas tree out onto the porch and to run extension cords into the house so that it could still lend its festive glory to the occasion. Three wise women marched in within the hour, one carrying a tray of glazed ham slices, the second with a plate of dinner roles, and the third, miraculously, with a fruitcake slathered with white frosting and an ancient and somewhat bedraggled, left-leaning wedding couple ornament on top.

People were gathering on the porch and peering into the window and smiling at the wedding couple. The young woman no longer was crying and actually managed a wan smile. The young man hovered around her, solicitous to her every need.

Mr. Maston came into the kitchen, and his wife turned to him and asked, "Were you able to get hold of Harry?" Then, before he answered, she turned to Charlotte and Brenda and said, "Harry's our justice of the peace. He lives a good ways down the mountain toward Burlington."

"How can he—?" Charlotte started to ask. But then they heard the bells and all moved to the dining room window to witness the arrival of the justice of the peace on a plow horse with a belled harness.

Charlotte and Brenda acted as witnesses. There wasn't room in the parlor for more than the wedding party, so those who couldn't crowd into the adjacent dining room stood out on the porch next to the Christmas tree and watched the ceremony through the window. All of the villagers must have suspended their Christmas preparations and shown up.

"Perhaps you could sing a song for us, Ms. Brandon," Mrs. Maston whispered to Brenda with a twinkle in her eye after the ceremony was over.

"How did you know?" Brenda asked in surprise.

"We go to the movies up here, my dear," Mrs. Maston said. "I won't tell the others though."

Brenda sang "On Eagle's Wings" and, to general laughter, Mrs. Maston declared the sleeping arrangements proper now.

Later, in bed, Brenda snuggled up to Charlotte and asked, "Want to try to make it up to the lodge tomorrow?"

"Not a chance," Charlotte answered. "Unless you do. I think the Christmas spirit is just right here in Grant."

"Me too," Brenda said with a contented sigh. "Me too. Merry Christmas, Charlotte."

"Merry Christmas to you too, darling."

Mobilize Erotica