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All the spices in India can't compare with that scent.
Who: Hunter and Scheherazade.
What: Hunter learns just who rules Mehrdadstan.
When: Shortly after this thread.
Where: Mehrdadstan, in the palace.

It had been about a week since Hunter had last been through the Rajani Jungle, since he'd met the charming and captivating woman who smelled of flowers and exotic spices. In that time, he'd taken his tiger and bear skins back up north to Camlann, sold them for a high price, their rarity raising demand. He had avoided the guards, their secrecy flowing past his nostrils, a scent that was only slightly milder than the sharp stink of fear. He searched for Red again, and this time had found her. But things hadn't quite gone according to plan, and he found himself in a surprising situation.

And so he headed back south. He traveled through Ozland, met Goodfellow, and gave his report. He traveled through the jungle again, passing the spot he'd met the enticing woman who name he still didn't know. If skins from the Rajani Jungle sold so well in Camlann, perhaps those from the Sleeping Woods would sell as well in Mehrdadstan. The woman had mentioned he needed to seek an audience with the queen to be able to sell his wares there. Well. He was going to do so now. He made his way through the desert, stopping at several nomadic outposts along the way. He could see the city now, none too far away, towers with light reflecting patterns to each other. Mirrors perhaps, a signaling system. It was a little ways outside the city he'd met Amalthea, the woman who was not a woman, and escorted her inside.

Inside the the city finally, Hunter stopped to rest, and it was then he caught the vaguest trace of her scent, that jasmine/honey/incensed scent. She had been here, sometime within the week. It was too faint though, teasing and unfulfilling. Hunter scowled. He'd have to ask about her maybe, but after he'd left the queen's audience. The path to the palace was guarded as he expected, and Hunter went through the necessary procedures to request the queen's audience. As he waited, he idly wondered both how long this would take, and why he was picking up her scent again, a good deal stronger now.

Scheherazade sat on her throne, dressed head to toe in pearls and regal bearing. And already itching to slip away from her duties even though her daily audiences had barely begun. She wasn't usually so restless, just in the last week or so she'd been out of sorts, unfocused. And she had a suspicion what might be causing it but...No, she needed to pay attention. She had no time for daydreaming about rugged strangers. Sighing, she returned her attention to the matter at hand, namely a pair of farmers disputing the borders of their property. Lord, when would it ever end?

It would. Eventually. Hunter's nose twitched impatiently. He could smell her somewhere nearby. The scent teased at him, like it wanted him to seek her now. But dozens of eyes were on him, wary of this foreigner who begged an audience with the queen, this tall pale stranger with furs just as strange over his shoulder, with eyes like mossy grass instead of dark like soil. He unnerved a lot of them, Hunter could tell. Could smell. Not quite fear, but bordering on it, and it irritated him, their pungent scents threatening to override hers. How much longer until it was his turn? Until he could make his plea, be accepted or rejected, and hunt for her?

The steady stream of petty disputes and outlandish requests was broken only occasionally with worthwhile pleas that Scheherazade only too happily granted to break up her constant litany of refusals. She'd barely made it halfway through the day's list though and the day was more than half over already. No matter. She decided that the next visitor was the last she'd see for the day and told her viziers so, ignoring their looks of disapproval. Who were they to disagree with their queen? She gestured elegantly with one hand, indicating the next and last commoner should be allowed in.

Well finally, Hunter thought as the guards finally allowed him entry. He likely growled aloud; that would explain why the man nearest him shrunk back, eyes startled. Hunter didn't care. He was distracted by how much stronger that exotic scent got as he entered the throne room proper, with its sprawling drapes and curtained hangings. The whole place was large, spacious and ornate, beautifully built, and so unlike any building he'd ever been in before. And he'd have tried to appreciate it more maybe if he wasn't trying to fill his nostrils with the scent he did not yet have the occasion to follow. But it wouldn't be much longer now. He was apparently lucky; he was the last person the queen was seeing today, and he nodded curtly to the guard who offered that information before leading him in. The throne was set up on a dais, and he looked up, stunned at how strong the scent suddenly was. And then he realized why. Sitting elegantly on the throne draped in an outfit more pearls than cloth was her. Apparently she was Queen Scheherazade. A slow smile broke out on Hunter's face as he approached.

One of her vizier's informed Scheherazade of her last audience for the day, apparently a hunter from a foreign land who wanted to open trade with their kingdom and no sooner had the words left the adviser's mouth than said hunter came into sight, blue eyes rising to meet hers on the throne and looking just as surprised as she probably did. It had been a little more than week since their chance encounter in the Rajani Jungle, but the sight of him, that smile taking its time to spread across his face, it made her pulse jump again. A sensation she'd realized wasn't all that unpleasant. Years of diplomacy kept her demeanor calm, the smile curving her own lips barely perceptible as she said in her best queenly tones, "Hello, hunter. I take it you've come seeking permission to sell your wares here in my kingdom?"

Hunter could smell the little spike in scent again, and it only broadened his smile. Oh, this was interesting. Well, he had neglected to ask her name. If he had, perhaps she would have told him she was in fact the Queen of Mehrdadstan. He moved closer, close as the guards allowed this imposing stranger to do, and fixed those pale blue eyes on her. "Yes. I have." And to find her, but he hadn't known both could be accomplished together. His gaze was as unwavering as it had been a week before in the jungle, as if he were trying to look his fill. The flaring of his nostrils showed he was doing the same with her scent.

She held that direct look; if it had been anyone else, they would have already been put in their place for being so bold as to stare the queen down. But this hunter was different. So much so that, for the first time since taking audiences early that morning, Scheherazade rose from her throne and walked the few steps down the dais to stand before him. "Permission granted, hunter." She could hear the surprised murmur from her advisers and it made her smile infinitesimally wider. It gave her even greater satisfaction to see their shock when she said, "Leave me now. All of you."

"But, your highness," one vizier started to protest.

"Don't make me repeat myself," she snapped, dark eyes cutting as she set them on the white-bearded man who'd dared to go against her will. The advisers obeyed with little more hesitation, Scheherazade's guards and maid reluctantly following. Her attention returning to Hunter, she held out her arm to him and finally allowed her smile to shine. "Walk with me." It could be taken as a request or a queenly demand.

Hunter's eyes widened ever so slightly. He had expected her to approve his request of course, but her display showed just how much a queen she was, and it intrigued him all the more, as did that dark flash in her eyes. The pearl outfit was even more stunning when she rose, drapes of jewel after jewel in a style no northener could hope to mimic. Hunter didn't stop to think before taking her arm, and acquiescing. Her scent washed over him again as he did so, and he paid no attention at all to the stunned guards and servants as they left. "I realized after you left I had been a fool not to ask your name. Who knew it would come with 'Queen' attached to it?"

She laughed as she slipped her arm comfortably into his and led him out of the throne room towards an open corridor. "It wasn't my intention to be deceitful, really." She shrugged a shoulder, bare skin rising and falling elegantly. "I just find that most men are... intimidated by my title and I did not want to take the chance that you would be one of those men." Scheherazade cast him a glance, lips quirking wryly. "I daresay I was foolish in my concern."

"I would not presume to call you foolish, queen or no. But I will say your concern was entirely unwarranted. I am intimidated by very little." There was no boast in Hunter's words, just truth. He was simply unafraid of much. "And I am glad to know your name now." His lips quirked. "I hope you'll forgive me if I don't tack on 'queen' or 'your majesty' whenever I call you Scheherazade." His eyes caught the rise and fall of bared skin, again noting its striking dark gold-brown color.

"I believe I'd be offended if you did," she said, an eyebrow arched in amusement. "And what do I call you, hunter? It seems only fair I should know. Or should I guess?" Her tone was teasing, as was her smile. Gone was the restlessness that had plagued Scheherazade recently. Now, in the company of the hunter, she felt far more at ease. Well, not entirely, she admitted to herself as the corridor led them out into the queen's private courtyard. He did fill her with some strange tension that she couldn't name, but she was oddly enjoying.

He quirked an eyebrow at her. "Would you like to try to guess? I think that could be either a very short or very long game." She already called him the name he'd gone by for years now. He'd been 'Hunter' so long, he could scarcely remember being called anything else. The last person to call him his real name - his mother - was long dead now. Even Red had no idea of Hunter's real name; though he felt a strange desire to tell Scheherezade what it was.

Scheherazade gave him a measuring look, lips pursed. "You're no Faruq or Aziz and I'm afraid my knowledge of foreign names is sadly lacking. We would definitely be at it for quite sometime if we decided to play." Scheherazade was well-versed in the subtleties of innuendo when dealing with courtiers and the like, but on a personal level not so much. So it took her a moment to realize the various implications of her last statement. Dusky cheeks grew stained by a faint blush, but she didn't demure or avert her eyes.

Hunter's lip curved again. She was blushing; he could smell the rush of blood beneath her skin, and yet she held his gaze. "Well you've got that right. I know we could." His innuendo however was entirely intentional, and he let his thumb move over her skin as he spoke. "I've been called nothing but 'Hunter' for years on end. But..." and he paused as they stepped out into the courtyard, "my given name is Garrett." It was strange how easy it was to tell her that. He hadn't uttered that name in years.

"Garrett," she repeated softly, tasting the name, strange on her tongue. Her accent lent the last syllable an unusual emphasis, made perhaps even more pronounced by the tiny, inaudible hitch in her breath when the hunter - when Garrett touched her like that. It was nothing really, just the littlest thing that could have been written off as accidental. But she was certain it was every bit as intentional as his words. Her pulse had lept a pace and she had to look away then in order to keep her wits. "I'm flattered, Garrett, that you would allow me the privilege of your name."

Hunter couldn't help but watch her mouth as she spoke, and the moment her breath caught, he inhaled deeply, knowing her scent would surge and eager to catch it. And he did, honey and jasmine, frankincense and spice flowing his direction. Her scent was so unique, so enthralling he couldn't help but keep scenting. "It's a privilege I allow no one," he responded, his voice husky. The movement of his hand, his fingers over smooth skin was clearly deliberate now, but still seemingly innocent, just teasing over flesh.

No one except her, was the implication and Scheherazade couldn't help the small, pleased smile that curved her lips. Or the way her pulse skipped into a gallop at his voice, or when those light touches continued. It made her skin tingle, the whole of her growing warm despite being raised in the desert heat. Attraction, her mind supplied, but knowing what it was didn't lessen the effect is was having on her. Shockingly at a loss for words, it was a little while before she cleared her throat to speak. "Come, I'm sure you're unused to our climate. Let's have a rest in the shade." She led Hunter to a beautifully carved bench sheltered away in small alcove that was shaded by vine upon vine of honeysuckle.

He liked the effect he was having on her. He could tell by her body language, by her scent, she was attracted to him, and so he let his own show just as much. Grateful for the escape from the hot sun, he followed her into the shade as sat on the bench beside her. "So. Tell me," Hunter asked, because he was very observant, "How is it you are queen? Suffice to say on my way through Mehrdadstan, I noticed it didn't much seem like a place that would elevate a woman to such power." Not only that, but it was clear from body language how little some of the court liked having a woman in charge.

The change in topic put Scheherazade back on surer footing as far as conversational gambits went and she let the regal facade slip, rolling her eyes. "They assume that because I am of the 'weaker sex', that I'm - or any other woman is - incapable of using her head. Despite me proving them wrong at every turn." She sighed, then sent Hunter a rueful look. "To answer your question, Garrett, they only reason why I sit on the throne and not some man is because my husband named me his successor. It was about the only wise thing he ever did in his life." The words might have seemed harsh, but as far as she was concerned, it was the simple truth.

Hunter's lip quirked. "You don't seem to be very fond of him," he said mildly. "How long has he been dead?" It wasn't a question that the king had passed; there was likely no way Scheherazade would be ruling if her husband were still alive.

"Three years. And to say I wasn't fond of him is like saying Mehrdadstan gets occasional sun." She sat back and crossed her legs, adding frankly, "I do believe he's the closest thing to a monster I've encountered in my life."

Hunter's eyes widened slightly. Well. That was interesting. "How did you come to marry him then if you so obviously didn't care for him?" His hand had moved back onto hers, fingers idly moving over her skin again.

Scheherazade knew that the allowances she was granting the hunter would be considered unseemly in her court, but she couldn't bring herself to care. They weren't in court just then, after all. "I offered myself to him. Let me explain," she added with a knowing smile before Hunter could get the very wrong idea. Scheherazade began to tell the tale of King Shahryar and his madness and how it claimed the lives of one thousand and ninety-five virgins, and how she had taken it upon herself to try to put an end to it.

Hunter found himself rather captivated as she started telling the story. It wasn't exactly the story itself he found interesting - though it was - but rather how she told it. She had a way of speaking that drew someone in, made them listen, want to hear more, and he couldn't help but question, "How did you manage to escape him killing you just as he did the rest?" She must have gone into the marriage with a plan; she was far too intelligent to do otherwise.

"I told stories," she said simply. "A thousand and one of them." She explained her method, starting a story each night, but never finishing it. "Until, just when I'd run out of stories and was worried that perhaps I would have to face the executioner after all, he decided that I was the best of his wives and fancied himself in love with me. So I lived. And apparently he was so fond of me that he made me his successor shortly before he died. Though, I must say," she admitted with a secretive smile. "I influenced his choice just a tad."

Oh, she was cunning. And Hunter was impressed. "You kept him wanting. That was very clever. And more the fool was he to take over a thousand nights to become enamored of you." The implication was there. It certainly wouldn't take Hunter as long. He had never met a woman he found so captivating. It was nothing like his obsession with Red. "I could see how easy it would be to hang on your every word." Honestly she had him doing the same. He couldn't help but want to hear more.

My, but he had her giddy and the flush returned to her cheeks with startling speed. "'ve quite the silver tongue, Garrett," she breathed, dark eyes glancing over to meet blue before settling on where his hand rested on hers. "Do you woo all your women with pretty words?" Because she had no doubt that's what he was doing: wooing her. She couldn't help but wonder to what purpose, even as she found herself going eagerly along with it.

Maybe he was at that. Hunter hadn't ever actually tried to 'woo' anyone before; hell the word wasn't exactly in his vocabulary. "No, actually I don't." He paid them for their services, or in one case had even stalked one and tried to coerce her affection by magical means, because usually, women were too put off by him. Outright afraid in some cases. He may have been good looking, but he came across too gruff and fearsome for many. Looking at it objectively, his experience and reputation with women wasn't exactly stellar. But something about Scheherazade had him doing something others would call flirting - wooing, he supposed - and it was one step away from active pursuit. "Looks like there's another privilege you've managed to obtain." He blamed it on her scent. It was damn near intoxicating.

"It seems I have many privileges when it comes to you, Garrett." And she definitely liked that. He honestly didn't seem the sort to allow anyone much insight into himself, but that she was offered these little gems of his personality? Well, it was incredibly flattering, and appealing to her in a way that she was wholly unfamiliar with. "I don't presume it's because of my title that you allow me these privileges. So why is it?" It was more womanly than intellectual curiosity that had her asking.

"You're right. Your title has nothing to do with it," Hunter responded, and he let that piercing gaze roam down the length of her and back up to her eyes. "And it's not just your looks. A good deal if it is your scent; it's as though I can't quite get enough." And he inhaled deeply again, leaning closer to her as he did. "And the way you speak, so freely and in such a way that draws me in. I can't explain it. But something about you captivates me, Scheherazade. In a way I'm not very used to. And so I suppose you're allowed privileges I'm unused to giving out." His hand moved along her skin again, deliberate. "I'm sure I don't have to tell you I'm very attracted to you."

Scheherazade could only stare at him with wide, dark eyes. No, he certainly didn't need to tell her. It was in the way he spoke - in that low, gruff timbre - almost more than the words themselves that was making her feel overheated despite the shade. It was in those bold touches and telling perusal of her person - touches and looks that her mind said she should take offense to, but the rest of her seemed to enjoy a bit too much. Way, way too much. And to know how much he enjoyed the scent of her...

She stood quickly, a hand flying to her chest as if it could calm her racing heart, slow her fast breathing. She'd somehow strayed into dangerous territory without realizing. "It's getting late in the day," she said apropos of nothing and cursing the slight tremor in her voice. "Perhaps you should try to make your rounds of the tanneries before they close or find yourself some lodgings for the night." Realizing how dismissive her words must sound, she glanced over at Hunter, offering an apologetic smile. "I'd offer to let you stay here in the palace, but I fear I've pushed the bounds of decorum enough as it is for one day." She paused, uncertain for a moment, then, licking her lips nervously, she offered, "Maybe another time?"

To some, to almost anyone, Scheherazade might have seemed scared or at least somewhat put off. But Hunter knew fear well, had seen it often, and this was not it. Her pulse was skipping and racing, her breath coming fast, and the spike in her scent had him fighting back an urge to bury his face in her neck and just- no. Not now, not yet. He watched her try to regain composure for a moment and then nodded slowly. "You're right. I wouldn't want to push anything too far."

Despite having been married, loveless though it may have been, it almost seemed to Hunter that Scheherazade was unused to such attention. He'd mull that over later; for now, he stood with her, hand finding her arm once more. "Another time. Maybe tomorrow I could escort you for an evening walk." It was just as clear her interest in him, and as she had done for over one thousand nights in a row to her husband, she was leaving him wanting. He'd be sure to be around the following night; he needed to see her again. His fingers lingered like he didn't want to let her go.

"I'd like that," she said with no trace of hesitation in her voice. He intrigued her, this hunter, caught her interest in a way no other man had, though many had tried before, during, and after her years married to King Shahryar. Having composed herself at least a bit, Scheherazade favored Hunter with a warm smile and wound her arm through his once more. "If you come early enough in the evening, perhaps you can dine with me before our walk." Her tone might have been casual, but the way she glanced at him betrayed her hope that he would accept the invitation.

Hunter escorted her back inside, and he read her invitation loud and clear. "In that case, I'll be here late afternoon instead," he quipped, a smile curving his lips again. He led her back the way they'd come, back into the throne room where guards clustered, half suspicious, half nervous, and all curious about just what was going on. "Until tomorrow then," he said, and he let his hand trail down her arm, past her wrist to catch her hand and lift it to his lips. He kissed the back of her hand - and stole the opportunity to catch another whiff of her scent before finally reluctantly letting go. The guards seemed all too ready to escort him out.

That kiss, small and chaste as it was, felt like a lick of fire against her skin and its heat spread through her blood, flushing her cheeks as she watched the hunter be shown out. Until tomorrow, he'd said. Cradling her hand against her chest, she couldn't help but feel that the wait for tomorrow would feel longer than any other.

Tags: scheherazade, hunter

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