The mouse ran a hand through his short hair. “Now, I wouldn’t want to go leaping to conclusions.”
“What other conclusion is there?”
“I’m not sure,” he said uncomfortably.
“I think,” Muari growled, “we need to go have a talk with this Jedric.”
Alfie’s ears folded back. “No, no. I can’t let you… ah…” He trailed off as both giantesses looked down at the phrase can’t let you. “Poor choice of words. Sorry. I just mean I don’t think you should do anything, you know…” He stomped his foot down a couple times. “Rash.”
“I said ‘talk,’” Muari said firmly.
“You can’t just walk into the village and demand to see him.”
“You’re giants! You can’t… I mean, you can, but you’ll…” He ran a hand through his hair. “I’m worried a bunch of idiots will run out at you waving swords and pitchforks, and I don’t want to see either of you hurt or see the village flattened.”
“We’re more careful than that,” Muari said with an amused sigh.
Liann nodded. “So we won’t be stomping if they don’t bring out the pitchforks.”
“You don’t stomp with pitchforks,” Muari said admonishingly. “You kick.”
Alfie rubbed his face.
The vixen laughed, stroking his side lightly with a finger. “You have to trust us enough by now to know we’d rather talk, and it’s hard to negotiate with littles who are terrified of you. I’m hoping we can work out something that lets us have some of your cattle. You have to give us some trust.”
He sighed after a moment. “I think I already trust you both rather more than I trust Jedric. All right, I suppose I can head back and try to set things up.”
“We’ll all head over in the morning,” Muari said.
“Wait. What about tonight?”
Liann scooped up the last forkful of her dish, other than the scraps by Alfie. “It’s too late for you to travel back there now, and I think it’s better if we show up during daylight. So you’re spending the night with us.”
“I don’t think I should…” He trailed off, staring up as he watched Liann lick her fork clean, a few feet of tongue—just the tip—agilely winding about the tines.
“Should what?” Muari prompted after a few seconds.
“What?” Alfie mumbled, blinking rapidly. He felt his ears burning. “Oh. Uh. Should stay here. I should stay here. I mean, I shouldn’t stay here.”
Liann grinned in a way that made it crystal clear she’d noticed his stare. “It’s just for a night, and we’ll be very nice.” She leaned down over the table, one hand resting by him, her muzzle just a few feet over his head, and added in a huskier whisper, “Just do absolutely everything we say and you’ll be fine.”
Alfie’s mouth went so dry he thought his tongue would crumble. He stared dumbstruck at Liann’s lips. And what he saw of her teeth. And that tongue, moving back there somewhere.
The wolf lightly cuffed the vixen’s shoulder as she got up from the table. “Stop teasing him. He looks like he’s going to burst into flames.”
Alfie forced a smile onto his face, although he was close to hyperventilating. “It’s okay.”
“See, he says it’s okay,” Liann said with a mischievous grin.
Muari rolled her eyes. “You’re terrible.” She picked up both plates and headed to the kitchen to clean up.
Liann laughed, and held out her hand by Alfie, palm up. He climbed onto the soft pad without waiting for her request—or command—and knelt there. She smiled in a way that seemed less mischievous than pleased, then stood up and walked back toward the sitting area. “We’ll have to figure out a place to keep you tonight. A pillow as a bed? I don’t know if we have anything that would make a good blanket. A handkerchief, maybe.”
“That’s very nice of you. Although I really should… I’m not getting permission to leave, am I?”
“You’re not, no. I’m sorry.”
He looked up at her smile. “You’re not sorry, are you, Miss Liann?” he said with a slight smile of his own.
She laughed, taking a seat on the sleeping pad. “No, but I’m at least trying to be good.” She set him down on the pillow by her hand.
Alfie blinked a couple times, staring up along her body toward her face. “I’m not sure what you mean,” he said cautiously. “Good?”
She leaned over, hands flat to either side of the pillow, so her arms were to either side of him and her muzzle—and chest—loomed straight overhead. “You’re a cute little man who’s said my wife and I are the most beautiful women you’ve seen. You can’t blame me for having my curiosity piqued.”
He swallowed. “You… uh… both really are.”
“Even though we’re both so big that if one of us kissed you too deeply you’d be entirely in our mouth, hmm?”
He couldn’t quite suppress a whimper at that. “That doesn’t make you any less beautiful, it just makes you kind of terrifying at the same time. But… I do trust both you and Miss Muari, like I said.”
She grinned down playfully. “Then would you trust me to give you a kiss?”
His eyes widened. “Would you… want to? I mean, uh….” He glanced toward the question. “You’re a married woman.”
Liann giggled, lifting her head. “Muari,” she called into the kitchen. “Would you mind if I gave Alfie a kiss?”
“No,” Muari called back. “But if you try to leave me for him, he gets swallowed.”
“What?” Alfie squeaked.
“Okay,” the vixen said, picking him up again.
“No, that’s not okay at—”
Then she kissed him.
Alfie had certainly been kissed by a woman before. He was in his thirties (early thirties, thank you) and had had a few liasions. He’d even been married for one deliriously happy year, followed by one passable year and three wretched ones until Janine had run off with a less handsome but inarguably more successful merchant. His years had been quieter and mostly romance-free since, but happy enough nonetheless.
The point was, he knew kisses. Lips weren’t luxurious, wet leather you could rest on. Teeth weren’t glistening ivory towers. Tongues weren’t strong, flexing sheets of muscle wider than your body. Breath wasn’t a warm, moist breeze. And most of all, a kiss wasn’t something that lit up all your nerves at once, surrounding your mouth, your nose, your eyes, your ears while it brushed against your shoulders and chest. You lost yourself in a pretty woman’s kiss metaphorically, not literally. A kiss didn’t own you.
Up until that moment, Alfie knew all those things. After that moment, he didn’t.
When Liann drew her muzzle away, her huge lips withdrawing a few feet and leaving his face and chest damp, he wasn’t sure he knew anything anymore. He took a breath, then fell back against her hand, wrapping an arm around one of her fingers to steady himself.
“Are you all right?” she murmured, sounding both amused and concerned.
“Ngg.” He took another breath, then nodded hurriedly.
“Did you like it?”
“Yes. Yes. I… uh.” He looked up into her eyes, trying to steady his breath, and just nodded again.
“Then you should kiss me back,” Liann said, and held him directly in front of her lips once more.
Alfie managed to suppress a reflexive whimper, even though he could feel his ears pressing against the sides of his skull. He folded his hands behind his back, and leaned forward, giving her a quick kiss.
“Better than that,” she whispered.
Taking a deep breath, he put his hands on Liann’s lower lip, and gave the lip a nuzzle.
“That’s a nice feeling,” she said with a soft laugh. “Mmm.” She moved him to her cheek. “Kiss me there.”
Alfie hesitated, then put his hands against the fur there and gave the vixen another nuzzle-lick there.
She tilted her head up and held him in front of her throat. “There.”
He smiled a little in spite of himself, and did as commanded.
Down in front of her collarbone, almost in her cleavage. When he looked from side to side he felt his ears starting to burn. “There.”
Clearing his throat, he did so, right at the base of the collarbone. He was starting to feel not only distinctly awkward but very, very warm.
Her hand dropped again, and he found himself tipped forward so he fell—lightly—against the halter over her left breast. He stared up at her.
“There,” she murmured.
Alfie swallowed hard, but put his hands on the edge of the halter, nuzzling the fur just over it.
Liann took a deep breath at that—which lifted his whole body up on her breast a moment—and let it out in a rumble. “Again.”
Before he could do so, he heard footsteps approaching from behind and Muari’s voice overhead. “Liann!”
He jerked his head up quickly, staring at the wolf as she sat down. He’d thought a displeased look on Liann’s face was frightening, but the scowl on Muari’s would have trained soldiers peeing themselves. What could he say? It’s your wife’s fault! I didn’t enjoy it! I’d do it to you if you were giving me commands, too! None of these even sounded very good in his head.
“It feels good,” Liann said, sounding apologetic but husky.
“He’s a he, not an it, and—”
“I mean his little kisses. He kissed me on the lips and I wanted to see what kisses… other places felt like.”
“He’s not your pet, Liann, even if you think it’s cute to give him commands to see if he’ll follow. Don’t think I haven’t been paying attention to—”
As the wolf spoke, Liann swung her arm—with Alfie—over to her, and pressed the mouse to Muari’s throat. “Kiss,” she commanded.
Alfie did so. Muari stopped in mid-sentence and made a kind of surprised noise. “You’re ducking the issue,” she said after a second.
Liann lowered Alfie to Muari’s halter.
“Don’t you even think about it,” Muari said warningly.
“Kiss,” Liann said to Alfie.
Muari gave the vixen that look again, then Alfie the same look. “Fine,” she finally said, sounding resigned. “Kiss.”
He felt paralyzed for a couple seconds—then put his hands on the wolf’s halter and nuzzle-licked the fur right over the cloth.
Muari took a deep breath.
“See?” Liann murmured smugly.
The wolf cleared her throat, then touched a finger to Alfie’s side, running a pad up it. He squirmed between two sets of fingers and the wolf’s breast. “Alfie, do you mind us making you do that?”
Before he could respond, Liann cut in. “He hasn’t said no!”
“I’m asking him, not you,” the wolf said with a smirk.
Alfie took two deep steadying breaths. “I… no. No, I don’t mind at all. It’s nice.”
Liann’s ears came forward, and she leaned against Muari, looking directly into the wolf’s eyes. “Oh, please say we can keep him.”
Muari sighed melodramatically, then kissed the vixen’s nose. “Silly. You know it’s his choice, not yours or mine.”
“That’s hardly fair.” The vixen had a mischievous look again, her eyes directly on Alfie rather than the wolf now. “What’s the point of being giant if we can’t tell him what his choice is?”
Muari stroked Alfie in what was undoubtedly meant to be a reassuring gesture. “She’s not usually like this,” the wolf said in mock exasperation. “I think we’d better find you a place to sleep—”
“I can think of a few already,” Liann offered, voice dropping into a smokily seductive growl.
“—before Liann gets any more ideas.” Muari narrowed her eyes.
“I’ll be good tonight,” the vixen said with a laugh. “I promise.” She stood up.
“We both thank you, I’m sure,” Muari said.
“That doesn’t mean I won’t ask him if we can keep him tomorrow, though.” Liann looked straight down at Alfie as she began to undress.
The mouse opened his mouth, but didn’t quite find his voice.
“That’s fair,” the wolf agreed, standing up and taking off her clothes as well.
Alfie stood on the pillow and stared up, watching the yards of cloth come off, until both women towered over him completely nude. The vixen looked down at him. “Are you going to sleep in your clothes?”
“I think that’s much safer,” he squeaked hoarsely.
She laughed, lifting him up in a hand. Then the two giantesses slipped under the sheets together. Liann stretched out on her back, and set him down in her cleavage.
Alfie made another strangled noise.
“He’ll be crushed if we snuggle too tightly,” Muari said. “Or just roll over.”
“He can climb up to the pillow,” Liann replied. “I just wanted to give him some things to think about as he went to sleep.”
“You are,” Alfie mumbled, managing to focus on her face.
“Good. I’m going to go to sleep thinking about what we’ll do tomorrow night, if you’re here.” She blew him a kiss.
The mouse looked at Muari as if for help, but the wolf was grinning just as much as the vixen as she reached over and put out the bedside lantern.
Alfie remembered stories in which people awoke after an utterly unexpected experience disoriented, unsure of their bearings. This morning was entirely unlike that, for he was quite sure where he was: on a vast, soft pillow, between the muzzles of two beautiful giantesses.
He sat up, rubbing his eyes. Despite Liann’s teasing words, nothing untoward happened to him during the night, beyond his own twitch-filled dreams spurred by the scent and body heat around him. He wasn’t sure whether to be relieved or disappointed, or to be hopeful or fearful about what the future would bring with the two.
No: he should be honest with himself. It wouldn’t bring anything with them, more than likely. But with any luck it would bring an end to this whole knight business—and he’d be a hero, whether or not Jedric would admit it.
Sighing, he stretched, twisting himself from side to side. He felt ten years younger than he had last week. The thought made him wonder how old Muari and Liann were. Did giants age the same way he did? Maybe they lived hundreds of years. Maybe they lived less. He couldn’t imagine a tactful way to ask, though.
With a soft growl, Muari rolled onto her back, head moving away from Alfie, and yawned widely. He looked up at those huge open jaws, glistening teeth high overhead, finding himself breathing faster, unable to look away.
Liann shifted position, rolling toward him. Her upper body formed a low ceiling as she moved to give her wife a kiss. “Good morning, love.”
As they kissed—and kept kissing—Alfie’s ears colored, and he forced himself to look away. He wasn’t sure it helped; the sounds alone might have been more erotic than the sight.
Finally they parted muzzles. “And good morning, Alfie,” Liann said. “Did you sleep well?”
“I—I think so. I don’t know,” he said, rubbing behind his ear. “I feel rested but I had, uh, restless dreams.”
She laughed, straightening up and stretching. “I think I like the sound of that.” If she noticed the way he stared at her stretch, she didn’t comment, instead rising to her feet and slipping on some clothes. “I’ll get some breakfast going, and then we’ll head to your village.”
He nodded. “I’ve been thinking about that, Miss Liann. I’m still worried that if you and Miss Muari just walk up you’ll cause a lot of panic.”
“We’ll try not to look threatening,” Muari said.
“I don’t mean any disrespect, but I think there’s only so much you can do about that. But—I have a plan. I think.”
Under normal circumstances, Alfie didn’t draw attention walking through the village streets. These were not normal circumstances. He’d barely passed the outskirts before a raccoon kit spied him and ran ahead, shrieking, “The knight is back!” By the time he’d gotten to the square at the village’s center, seemingly half the town had come out to meet him, staring in shock, awe or, he suspected, skepticism.
Alfie scurried up onto the little wooden stage used by Lord Jedric for his interminable pronouncements, raised his hands over his head and bellowed, as much as a mouse could bellow. “The monster will trouble us no more.”
The crowd went silent for a moment, then murmurs ran through it. “Alfie killed the monster?” someone shouted. Then it was repeated, without the questioning tone. “Alfie killed the monster!”
Jedric himself was pushing his way through the crowd, elbowing peasants out of the way until he and his two burly feline bodyguards reached the stage as well. “You killed it?” Jedric said, clearly shocked.
“It’s dead,” Alfie replied.
“But—but—” Jedric looked ashen for a moment, then suspicious. He walked up onto the stage as well, doing his best to look imposingly imperial. “The talk in the village was that you planned to reconnoiter the area first and decide what to do then.”
“And you, alone, in a day’s time, killed the monster.”
Alfie put his hands on his hips. “You wouldn’t have sent me out if you didn’t think I was up to the job, now, would you?”
Jedric narrowed his eyes, but didn’t respond.
The raccoon kit who’d first spotted Alfie ran up to the crowd from the east, the same direction Alfie had come from. “Giants! Giants!”
This caused more murmurs, mostly puzzled. “Giants?” Wolli said clearly.
The raccoon pointed. The crowd turned to see a giant wolf woman and giant vixen in the distance—a distance rapidly diminishing as the pair walked closer.
“And,” Alfie continued in a loud voice before the screams could start, “I didn’t say I did it alone.”
That staved off most of the screams, which Alfie silently admitted was a better outcome than he’d privately feared. Even so, as Liann and Muari got closer the crowd started to draw back, the nervous exclamations getting sharper, with some mothers—and more than one father—hurrying their children away into homes.
“These are my friends,” Alfie continued, now speaking as loudly as he could without screaming himself. “Liann,” he pointed at the vixen, “and Muari,” pointing at the wolf. Each of the giantesses waved down in turn.
“Let me make sure I’m following,” Wolli said, managing to sound cynical even as he stared up at the two. “On your first night out, you met two giants, and they killed the monster for you.”
“That’s about it,” Alfie said.
“We just helped,” Muari said. “It was all Alfie’s idea.”
“Oh, absolutely, he did all the work,” Liann added.
Jedric grabbed Alfie’s collar and yanked him down. “You fool, they’re the monsters,” he hissed.
“We can hear you, you know,” Muari said, leaning over. The crowd gasped and started backing away in all directions again.
Liann leaned over, too. “The obnoxious little boar is Jedric, isn’t he?”
“You told them about me?” Jedric growled, starting to look apoplectic.
“Maybe she’s just a good judge of character,” Wolli muttered. Laughter rippled through the crowd.
Jedric rounded on him with a glare. “Don’t you see?” He raised his hands over his head. “Don’t you all see? They’re the monsters!” He pointed up accusingly at the giantesses. “I told you if you listened to them they’d trick you! And they have! And you’ve brought them here!”
The crowd started to murmur in confusion, punctuated by angry or fearful shouts. Alfie realized more than a few hostile glares were being thrown his way.
“You never said ‘them,’” Alfie snarled back, thrusting his finger in the boar’s face. “Not before. You knew there were two of them?”
“That’s twisting my words,” Jedric stuttered.
“Now, look,” Wolli said crossly, “Is there one monster that you all killed, or are there two monsters standing right over us? I’d like to know if I should be running or not.”
“If we wanted to kill you it’d be too late to run,” Liann said helpfully. Muari kicked her lightly in the shin.
Some villagers were now running back toward the crowd—and the giantesses—with pitchforks, swords and axes. Jedric seized on the moment. “Get them!”
“Poke me with any of those and I swear I’ll kick you into the next town,” Muari snarled. They kept running. She took a step back, tensing up.
“Stop!” Liann yelled, raising her hands over her heads. A giantess yelling was, Alfie and the rest of the village learned just then, enough to stop a pitchfork-wielding crowd in its tracks, at least temporarily.
She put her hands on her hips, glaring around, and continued. “Look. Here’s the truth. Yes, we’ve been the ones eating your cattle. We’re sorry. But we thought they were from a herd we already had permission to eat from, and we told two ranch hands we met here that.”
“Lies!” the boar shrieked, stomping his hoof. “We know you killed them!”
“Actually,” Wolli said, “I don’t believe anyone knows that but you.” The rabbit put his hands on his hips. “How do we know they’re not telling the truth?”
A fox carrying a pitchfork pointed it accusingly at Jedric. “Wolli’s right. We never saw bodies.”
“They ate them!” Jedric screamed hysterically.
“We did not,” Liann snapped. “I bet you killed them and blamed us!”
“And think about this,” Muari cut in. “Little Lord Bacon there keeps sending his enemies after us, giving them explicit instructions designed to trick us into killing them.”
Liann leaned over again, fixing her gaze on the boar. “Which we really. Really. Don’t. Like.”
More pitchforks were raised again, this time all of them pointing toward the boar.
Jedric stepped back, looking between the two giants. Then abruptly he grabbed Alfie, one thick arm around the mouse’s neck, the other hand holding his coarse dagger to his captive’s throat. Alfie’s eyes widened sharply. The crowd gasped in clear shock. Both giantesses sucked in their breath.
“Fine,” Jedric hissed, eyes wild. “Yes, I knew about you two and I had to get rid of those damn farmers. And this is what’s going to happen now. I’m going to go to the stables, and Smithson and I are going to ride out of this damned forsaken pit of a village. And you two are going to stay absolutely stock still until I’m over the horizon and drop him off.” He started to back up, dragging the mouse along.
Liann took a step forward, fists clenched.
“Stay back. Back!” The boar scowled. “You were going to be the last one, Smithson, you know that? After you failed, I’d have petitioned for real knights to go in and take care of these two. They have tricked you, you know. You can’t trust giants. Turn your back on them once and they’ll eat you too.”
Liann whined. “What do we do?” she hissed to Muari.
“I don’t know,” the wolf growled, ears back.
“What you do,” Jedric said, voice rising to a crazy pitch once more, “is—”
A sharp klunk sounded off his head. He squealed, pitching forward abruptly, staggering and dropping the dagger. A turnip fell to the stage with another klunk and rolled off into the grass.
Jedric whirled. “You!” He pointed at Wolli, then let out an incoherent scream and charged toward the rabbit.
He made it five steps before Muari’s hand closed around him. The scream rose an octave as she lifted him up into the air. “Put me down! Put me down! I command you to—”
She tossed him into her mouth. A very short, muffled scream ensued, followed by a wince-inducing crack and an audible gulp.
The crowd went dead silent for several long seconds, then started cheering.
Alfie motioned for Muari to lean over. When she did, he loudly whispered, “I thought you didn’t eat people.”
She gave a very small shrug. “Mostly.”
“You know we’re just going to end up with another royally-blessed bozo,” Wolli said to Alfie.
They stood in front of the tavern, along with half the town. The two giantesses sat nearby. Nearly everyone had a tankard of beer; Liann and Muari had barrels—small for them in proper scale, but they accepted it in the spirit intended and seemed sincere when they complimented the brewmaster.
The ranchers weren’t as mollified as the brewer, but they’d worked out a deal to give the giantesses some cattle every month—less than they’d been taking, but much less than the ranchers wanted to give away for free. The announced deal was to give the village the claim to having giantesses protecting it, with an unspoken acknowledgement that the most significant threat two friendly giantesses protected them from was two unfriendly giantesses.
“Oh, more than likely,” Alfie said. “But it could be someone from this town rather than an outsider. Maybe even you.”
“Me, work for the king? I’d rather be eaten by a giant wolf myself,” Wolli snorted, draining the last of his ale. He glanced at the giantesses. “They’re really married?”
“That’s what they told me.”
He furrowed his brow. “Not our denomination, I’m guessing,” he said at length.
Liann leaned over and tapped her finger near the mouse and rabbit. “Alfie,” she said when he looked up, “Do you want to stay here tonight, or come back with us?”
“I…” He looked around at the tavern, at the people, at Wolli’s suddenly very arched brows. “How serious were you about… uh… keeping me, Miss Liann?”
She leaned down more and dropped her voice to a huskier register. “Very serious.” Muari grinned over her wife’s shoulder.
“Wow.” He ran a hand through his hair.
Wolli put his hand on Alfie’s shoulder and spoke in a low hiss. “Keep? Like a pet?”
“I think so,” he mumbled uncomfortably.
“And you’re considering it?”
“You don’t… I mean…” He set down his beer stein and took a deep breath. “Wolli. They,” he gestured grandly with both hands at the two giantesses, “want to keep me,” he pointed at himself, “like a pet!”
The rabbit furrowed his brow, then looked at Muari, at Liann, at Alfie, back at Muari and Liann. “I take your point,” he finally said.
Alfie looked up at the two. “I’ll just collect a few things, and we can be on our way.”
“Do you want to bring any of your furniture?” Liann said.
He blinked. “I really don’t have much. My bed, a desk, a wardrobe…”
“Oh, that’s easy. Which house is yours?”
The mouse pointed at a modest thatched-roof hut—which described most of the village—seven doors down the street.
Liann leaned forward, then crawled on her knees about twenty feet and pointed. “This one?”
“Got it.” She ripped off the roof and scooped up the contents rather gracelessly. Alfie and Wolli both winced.
“Oh, Liann,” Muari said with a sigh. She reached down and held out her hand for the mouse.
“Th… thank you, Miss Muari.” He waved to Wolli and at a fair number of gaping townspeople. Most of them kept gaping, although Wolli waved back with a wry grin.
“You really don’t have to keep calling us ‘miss,’” Muari said as the two stepped out of town and down the road again.
“I—It’s hard not to.”
“You could say ‘mistress’ instead,” Liann chimed in.
Alfie made a glrk noise.
“Liann!” Muari said warningly.