the Gem of Purity

by Ellison Wonderland


      Sometimes they were really hot and you had to slide into them carefully, 
      sweating with the steam, toasting every part of an aching body. And then 
      there were the cold ones, stiff and bracing, good to make the extremities 
      sing with blood and remind yourself that you were still safe and alive. 
      Springs were good, with a gentle current to wash away the cobwebs, 
      floating on your back with sunlight dappling the water. But the best 
      thing, better than all of that, was a good chunk of soap and the glorious 
      feeling of being clean.

      Autolycus sniffed an armpit, cautiously, nose wrinkled in anticipation of 
      the horrors to come. Frankly, he stank. But the upside was that no one had 
      even suspected his disguise, at least as far as he could tell. Dragging 
      his nose out of his armpit, Autolycus tried not to look shifty as he 
      catalogued the room, its obvious and more hidden entry-points, places of 
      concealment, and godawful décor. Goddess-awful, actually, since this was 
      the Temple of Artemis. Someone needed to give her a few hints about 
      austerity and the human spirit. Even a thief appreciated beauty - 
      especially a thief, if it wasn't nailed down.

      The ragged band of beggars inched further into the great hall, their
      motley leader a stiff and ungainly old man, lurching towards the trestle 
      tables slowly despite the tantalising aroma of roasted meat. Autolycus' 
      stomach lurched as well, in time with his old man's movements. It had been 
      days since he'd last had a proper meal, hanging out with this group of 
      no-hopers, immersing himself in his part like a good method actor. His 
      clothes were stiff with days-old sweat, and the temptation to throw over 
      his disguise and run to the table was stronger than almost any he'd ever 
      felt. It had been interesting, getting reacquainted with hunger, his old 
      childhood friend.

      The tables were literally groaning under an amazing feast. Autolycus, or 
      "Nestor" as he was known to his new friends, found his mouth watering at 
      the smells, and the signals his eyes were sending him. Whole deer, roasted 
      on a spit, summer vegetables in strong-smelling sauces, game birds cooked 
      in their own fat, aromatic spices dribbling off mounds of meat… But not 
      yet. Control, always control, was the mantra that he chanted in his mind.

      To distract himself from the gnawing hunger, Autolycus surveyed the room 
      for a second time. It was a cavernous hall, cold and ancient stone, with 
      very few tapestries to relieve the gloom or shut out the draughts. One 
      enormous one hung resplendent over the high table. Artemis, picked out in 
      silver, stood off to one side, cold and aloof, almost excluded from the 
      main scene. Only two things intruded into the central space; an elegantly 
      shod foot, which seemed extended as though about to kick, and the 
      silver-white horn that she held to her moonlit lips. The horn was so large 
      that it dominated the scene, calling the central participants to the hunt. 

      Off to the other side, balancing the slender goddess and her horn, hung a 
      moon so white that it seemed to Autolycus that it might be made of snow. 
      Almost, he thought that he could taste its cold moisture, as though if he 
      waited long enough in this cold and silent place, the moon would begin to 
      melt and drip its essence on to him. Shivering, not liking the image or 
      the strange feelings it evoked in him, Autolycus turned his eyes to the 
      central scene. That was better. A hunting scene, with warrior women on 
      horseback, bows in hand, bringing down a giant stag. Nothing out of the 
      ordinary there.

      Except for one thing. The eyes of the stag seemed almost real in the pale 
      torchlight. And they seemed trained on the table off to the side, where 
      the roasted stag lay ready and waiting for the feast.

      It's just a trick of the light, thought Autolycus. And there's a secret 
      door behind that tapestry, or I'm not the King of Thieves. 

      He could tell by the way that the hanging was draped, by the patterns of 
      dust that he could just make out on the floor beneath it, and a hundred 
      other little clues that alerted a professional to a secret entrance. 
      Especially the stag's eyes, obvious peepholes if ever he'd seen them. 
      Autolycus had not been able to study the layout of the temple in any 
      depth, but the building was shaped in such a way that the secret door must 
      surely lead to the sanctuary, the place behind the high altar. Excellent. 
      Sometimes, if he was lucky enough, plans just made themselves and took him 
      along for the ride. In a way, it looked like this might be an easy job 
      after all.

      Although there was nothing particularly easy about the last few days, 
      spent in hunger and cold with this group of beggars. But he was accepted 
      by them now, without question, and no one in the temple even looked at him 
      twice. Everyone in Greece knew that at the beginning of Hunt Week, the 
      priestesses of Artemis would hunt for two days and a night, feasting on 
      the second night with the deer that they had caught. And in pride of place 
      was the yearling stag, the young buck sacrificed to Artemis' glory, the 
      only time that a male animal was brought inside the temple. But the 
      priestesses could not sully their lips with male flesh. And so the worst 
      of beggars were made the recipients of Artemis' bounty. For this one 
      night, men were allowed into the Temples of Artemis, to eat their full of 
      the yearling stag and then sleep it off, before being driven out in the 
      morning. It was also known that the priestesses were quick to see the men 
      off, taking the bones of the carcass with them. No toilet privileges 
      either - no part of the men or the stag that tthey had consumed was 
      permitted to stay inside the holy precincts.

      All of which was a wonderful opportunity for a thief who wanted to steal 
      something from the Temple of Artemis. Especially since his victims were 
      providing him with a ready-made quick getaway. Autolycus smiled to himself 
      in self-congratulation. Absolutely nothing could go wrong. Now why didn't 
      they get on with the bloody feast?


      It had all started when he'd met up with King Iphicles in Meg's Tavern. 
      Everyone was scrupulously rude to the king, pretending that they didn't 
      know who he was. Iphicles got a boy's night out, the tavern got royal 
      protection, and everyone was happy. Even so, Autolycus had been a bit wary 
      when the king slid onto the bench beside him, interrupting his ogling of 
      the topless serving women and the men with platters of food and pants with 
      the backsides ripped out.

      "Nice tits," observed Autolycus after a while, when the silence was 
      getting heavy. He was quite surprised to find his hand grabbed in a 
      crushing grip, his fingers white under the pressure of Iphicles' fist. 

      "Yes, they are."

      After a long, bone-crunching pause, Autolycus' hand was released. Only to 
      be grabbed again, in a more gentle way.

      "Very nice tits," said Iphicles softly, before popping one of Autolycus' 
      long, nimble fingers in his mouth, and applying a gentle, wet suction to 
      it. He rasped it with his tongue, purring like a big, dangerous cat.

      The King of Corinth is sucking on my finger, thought Autolycus. No, make 
      that two of my fingers. And it's hard to work out what's going on here, 
      when I can't stop thinking about him sucking on my dick instead. 

      Shit. Very hard. Witness the dick in question, rapidly growing in tune to 
      the strange, tingling sensations, as Iphicles bathed his fingers in spit, 
      one by one. No one took any notice, although one of the serving wenches 
      banged a cup of ale in front of the king as if she had a grudge against 
      the tabletop. 

      Fuck, thought Autolycus. He shivered in mingled desire and fear. How to 
      resist a man like this, all sultry smiles and bedroom eyes? But he had to 
      resist him, till he'd worked out what was going on here, figured out the 
      angles. Shit. This was a brothel. Perhaps Iphicles thought he was selling 

      "I hear your services are for hire," said Iphicles. He seemed to be 
      contemplating Autolycus' thumb, wondering perhaps if it should be given 
      the same royal treatment as its four fellows. 

      I'll be jacking off with that hand tonight, thought Autolycus vaguely. It 
      was amazing how collected he sounded, when he answered the question.

      "I'm a thief, and I'm always for hire."

      In fact, he added silently, you can hire that thumb for keeps, if you just 
      keep doing that, that thing, with your tongue…

      "I want to get married," said Iphicles.

      It was like a bucket of cold water, Meg's favoured way for waking 
      customers the morning after. "Er, I'm not really looking for a husband."

      Iphicles looked at him as if he were mad. Perhaps he was. But at least he 
      had his hand back now, fingers still smarting where they'd been nipped and 
      gently gnawed, blood rushing to the throbbing digits. But the talk of 
      marriage had scared him, taking some of the blood from his cock and 
      redistributing it to hand and brain, a thief's biggest assets. 

      "Not you. Her."

      Both men contemplated the woman in question. Autolycus tried not to think 
      "slattern", just in case Iphicles could read the thought in his quickly 
      downcast eyes. No wonder she'd been a bit rough with the cup before, since 
      her future husband seemed to be making out with another man. Still. Nice 

      "I see. And you need the services of the King of Thieves because…?"

      It was always best to assume nothing with a customer, and to get it all 
      out in the open as quickly as possible. Autolycus hated to take a job 
      where he didn't know all the angles. And frankly, this one stank as bad as 
      the week-old fish Meg had served for dinner.

      "She's a whore," said Iphicles flatly.

      "This is a brothel." 

      This logical rejoinder did not seem to endear him to the king. Autolycus 
      snatched his hands away and sat on them. He couldn't afford to have his 
      fingers bitten any further, since they were the tools of his trade. 
      Besides, it wasn't helping to distract him from his cock and what he'd 
      like to do with Iphicles' pouty lips.

      "I know that this is a brothel. But I don't want a slut for a wife. I want 
      a queen. You know, carding wool and looking modest, that kind of thing. 
      But you see, I love her, I really love her. And she wants to change." 

      That mouth, those fuckable lips, were leaning closer and closer. He's 
      going to kiss me, thought Autolycus in a mild panic. He hadn't felt such a 
      rush since he'd stolen a golden apple from Hera's bedroom. She'd caught 
      him, of course, and he hadn't got out of her bedroom for a year and a day, 
      but that was another story. Now, he closed his eyes and parted his lips, 
      waiting to feel the brush of skin on skin, the invasion of his mouth by 
      another tongue.

      Instead, Iphicles whispered, "I want you to steal the Gem of Purity from 
      the Temple of Artemis."


      Doron was something of a snorer. Autolycus patted the young man's cheek 
      gently, as he disentangled their limbs as carefully as he could. The last 
      thing that he wanted was for Doron to wake up and ask him what he was 
      doing. The beggars had huddled together on the straw that carpeted the 
      great hall, bellies full for the first time in a long while, clinging to 
      each other for warmth. Slowly, a little frightened, they had nodded off to 
      sleep. All except Autolycus, who had not slept a wink, but had been 
      monitoring the priestess carefully where they stood guard at the grand 
      entrance. By now, he was fairly certain that they had relaxed their 
      vigilance, since the hall was dimly lit and the mirrors could be showing 
      them nothing. Each guard stood with her back to the hall, a mirror held 
      aloft so that she could watch the beggars without looking directly at men 
      as they slept. It was not a very sensible system, but spoke volumes for 
      how chastity was regarded in this temple.

      If he or they could have seen clearly in the mirrors, they would have seen 
      a smirk on Autolycus' dirty face as he slipped away from the others in the 
      shadows. He found the whole set-up amusing, after his earlier lapse in 
      mood in front of the tapestry, which was easy to blame on days of hunger 
      and deprivation. But the prize would be worth it. Iphicles had promised 
      him half the contents of his treasury, if he came back with the Gem of 
      Purity for his new bride. And there was the kudos of robbing a goddess, 
      though not even the King of Thieves wanted that noised about too publicly.

      Ouch. Oh well, a stubbed toe was a small price to pay for slipping quietly 
      through a dark room, full of shadows, the lay-out of which he had 
      memorised while the others stuffed themselves with venison and wine. Just 
      a little over here, to avoid that raised flagstone, and then a silent dash 
      to the wall and the heavy tapestry that dominated the room. 

      Autolycus reached out with careful fingers and stroked the material, 
      testing its quality, weight, and weave. He really wanted to be stroking 
      Doron instead. A smile slipped across his face as he thought about fucking 
      Doron through the floor. But not even he was enough of a daredevil to risk 
      having sex in Artemis' temple, even though Doron was now used to taking 
      Autolycus' cock quietly in the dark. 

      There. An irregularity on the wall behind the tapestry. Questing fingers 
      found and disarmed the traps. Clever. That one would have embedded 
      poisoned needles deep beneath his fingernails. Wincing at the thought, 
      Autolycus stepped over the tripwires and slipped behind the tapestry, 
      bulking it out for a moment, and then finding his way into the dark 
      passage behind it. He was glad that he couldn't see it in the dark, the 
      eyes of the pale goddess and her too-white moon. 

      Slipping tinder and a candle from inside a pouch, artfully concealed in 
      apparent rags, Autolycus lit a small light and looked around him. He could 
      feel the silk of the tapestry brushing his back as he craned his neck, 
      searching for more traps. But there were none that he could see. The 
      priestesses clearly used this little passage for quick trips between the 
      great hall and the main sanctuary. It made Autolycus a little excited, to 
      think of why they might need a secret passage. What did they get up to, 
      Artemis' girls, out of the open spaces and the watchful eyes of the moon?

      A few quick steps brought him to another doorway, covered by the draperies 
      of what must be a second tapestry. Autolycus searched for traps on this 
      side but there were none that he could find. Presumably, the priestesses 
      felt that the sanctuary was more secure than their great hall. Lifting the 
      material aside, Autolycus peered out into the heart of the Temple of 
      Artemis. No gloom and shadows here, but the bright light of a hundred 
      smoking torches, and a blaze of candles at the altar directly in front of 
      him. Autolycus knew that he was seeing something no man had ever set eyes 
      on. The thought, instead of inspiring religious awe, went straight to his 
      cock and made him hard. Swallowing a laugh, he tried to convince himself 
      that jacking off in the sanctuary of the virgin goddess was nothing short 
      of suicide.

      Everyone knew that Artemis opened the Week of the Great Hunt at her huge 
      temple in the wilds of Attica. She was miles away from here. Not even the 
      smell of cum would bring her after him with bow and arrow. Even so, 
      Autolycus smoothed his moustache reflexively and felt a bit sick at his 
      crazy impulse. What sort of sicko wanted to jack off in the face of such 
      purity? Or, even worse, on the job?

      He made his careful way over to the altar, although the sanctuary was 
      clearly empty. It was a bit of a shock, therefore, to find himself 
      suddenly staring up at the face of Artemis. There she was. Twelve feet 
      tall. Stony-faced and cold of heart. But beautiful, very beautiful. He'd 
      give the sculptors that, they'd done a good job. And there, between two 
      perfect breasts, hung a ruby the size of his fist, absorbing the light of 
      the candles and reflecting it back a hundredfold. The Gem of Purity.

      Okay. It was ten feet off the ground, and there was no way he was going to 
      commit (extra) sacrilege by climbing onto the altar so that he could reach 
      it. Backing away, Autolycus made a short run and then flipped himself high 
      into the air, grasping the ruby on his way down and tugging it free with 
      one jerk. 

      Make that one unsuccessful jerk. The blood rushed to Autolycus' feet as he 
      hung in midair, his torso plastered against Artemis', the ruby still 
      stubbornly attached to a solid gold chain. He'd been expecting a hemp 
      chain, in keeping with the austerity of this temple, but he could work 
      with what he had. Reaching into his pouch with his free hand, Autolycus 
      fished out a tool and set to work. Within seconds, he had levered the ruby 
      out of its gold setting and was dropping back to the floor on silent feet, 
      relieved to be free of contact with the cold stone goddess at last.

      The Gem of Purity felt pretty ordinary, now that it wasn't dazzling him 
      with reflective light. Even so, his heart raced at the thrill of the 
      chase, the hunt for something that no one else in the world could have or 
      get, except for the King of Thieves. Artemis still looked severe, but he 
      could live with that. She wasn't a goddess who bothered much with the 
      affairs of men, and chances were she would never find out what happened 
      here tonight. He was still hard, but it wasn't with the thought of dirty 
      sex in a temple any more. Instead, he was picturing Iphicles' face when he 
      told the king their new deal. The Gem of Purity in return for a good hard 
      fuck. He wanted to fuck royalty, a first for him, and Iphicles could keep 
      his gold. Treasure was always available to Autolycus, not so the kind of 
      promise he'd read in Iphicles' eyes. It was the queen who was to be pure, 
      after all, not the king.

      Suppressing the urge to whistle and strut, Autolycus ran quietly back to 
      the tapestry, not even bothering to see what the scene was in this one. He 
      slipped behind its folds and darted back to the other side, rearming the 
      traps before easing himself out into the great hall.

      The beggars snored on where they lay, and the guards stood statue-still. 
      Nothing had changed, and he had managed the theft in a matter of minutes. 
      Doron stirred as Autolycus' cold limbs stretched out against his own, and 
      then went back to sleep, exhausted and full of slowly digesting meat. The 
      urge to fill him with another kind of meat faded slowly, and Autolycus 
      kept watch through the night, alert for any alarm or other signs that his 
      theft had been discovered. He was ready to run, had an escape route worked 
      out, and the means of distracting the priestesses through several possible 
      ruses. The only question was whether he could get Doron out too - that 
      remained to be seen.

      But nothing broke the peace of the temple, until the guards came marching 
      in to poke the sleeping men with spears and order them out in low, husky 
      voices. Bowing and scraping, Autolycus led his fellow beggars out into the 
      early light of dawn and through the great gates of the temple. The guards 
      threw them some bread and an old rind of cheese as they left, advising 
      them to get as far away from Artemis' house as their pathetic legs would 
      carry them. The eyes of the women were cold and hard, and Autolycus found 
      himself looking for some reflection of the Gem in those eyes. Its light 
      had almost softened Artemis' stone face, but there was nothing of that in 
      these guards on a warm spring morning. Still, the priestesses had tossed 
      them breakfast - a piss poor breakfast, it was true, but they didn't have 
      to do even that much. "There's nothing so cold as charity," his mother 
      used to say, when she sent him out to earn their keep.

      It was Hunt Week and these priestesses of Artemis would be riding soon, 
      riding to the chase. Autolycus wanted to be a long way away by the time 
      they returned home for evening prayers.


      Five days till Corinth. 

      The big bay horse ambled quietly, obedient to the odd nudge from 
      Autolycus' knees. He whistled as he rode, stopping every now and then to 
      whip out a tool from some hidden cavity.

      "This one is for more complicated locks," he said to Doron, who rode a 
      small white horse that easily kept pace with his showier bay. 

      His original plan had been to leave Doron with the others, sneaking a few 
      gold coins into his pockets while he slept. But Autolycus couldn't stop 
      thinking about the temple, its cold hard loneliness, and how he had wanted 
      to fuck Doron silly in the face of it. The youth's warm limbs had relaxed
      him at last, dangerously so, that he was almost asleep when the guards 
      came to throw them out. But perhaps there was something to having a 
      companion, something that he'd discovered in the days of hunger and misery 
      that had won him entrance to the temple. And inside, Autolycus had taken a 
      long hard look at the solitary life, and not liked what he'd seen.

      Doron, prince of thieves. It had a nice ring to it. 

      "Doron, give me your handkerchief."

      The young man was not used to having clothes with pockets, let alone 
      handkerchiefs, so he seemed unsurprised when Autolycus produced the rag 
      with a flourish and told him that he'd picked his pocket. Doron had a nice 
      uncomplicated view of property, never having owned any, that leant itself 
      well to an apprentice thief.

      Autolycus would be well pleased with himself and life at the moment, if 
      only that pesky screaming would stop.

      "What's that?" asked Doron, looking to him with worshipful eyes. Feeling 
      as hard-hearted as Artemis, Autolycus wanted to reply that it was none of 
      their business. But the doe eyes got to him at last, and he wheeled his 
      horse and cantered off the road in the direction of the river, where the 
      screams seemed to be coming from.

      It was a scene all too common on the roads of less well-ordered states 
      these days. A rape in progress - or rather about to be in progress, since 
      the ruffians hadn't managed to get the woman's clothes off yet. With a 
      sigh of annoyance, Autolycus drew his sword and waded into the fray, 
      growling at Doron to stay back and pick up the attackers' discarded 
      clothing and any valuables. One armed man against three naked goons was a 
      quick fight, and two managed to escape into the forest. Autolycus pulled 
      his sword from the third without regret, rolling the scum over into the 
      bushes, out of sight of the weeping woman. 

      "It's alright, you're safe," he said gently, helping the woman up, trying 
      not to scream inside as he now became the target of two worshipful sets of 


      Three days till Corinth.

      Adriana rode in front of Autolycus, his arms around her waist, since they 
      hadn't gotten around to stealing her a horse yet. In fact, that was the 
      first order of business for the day, since Doron had spotted a likely 
      looking farm a mile or so up the road. It seemed less promising, when 
      Autolycus crawled to the top of a small rise overlooking the farmhouse, 
      and saw a mob of angry people brandishing swords and burning brands.

      He shared a silent look with Doron, brows raised in query.

      "I used to live around here," whispered Adriana, who had ignored his 
      command to stay with the horses. "They're a lovely couple, two elderly 
      farmers, but Gregon wants to take their land. I'd bet anything that he's 
      stirred up a mob to attack them."

      Autolycus was not used to expectant faces. Oblivious ones were more to his 
      taste, as he lifted their valuables.

      "There's fifteen of them, and two of us," he pointed out carefully.

      "Three of us," said Adriana, drawing a wicked-looking knife.

      The battle was short and not very sweet. The mob had been impressed when 
      Autolycus cartwheeled his way down the hill, yodelling like Xena, to land 
      in front of the lead peasant and knock him unconscious with the flat of 
      his sword.

      "Kill him!" shouted a shifty individual, who was undoubtedly Gregon. A 
      quick sword thrust through the place where his heart should have been 
      disposed of Gregon, and the mob took to its heels straight away. While 
      Doron collected discarded weapons and searched for abandoned treasures 
      (none), Autolycus received the grateful thanks and kisses of two elderly 
      people, who smelt of onions and garlic. 

      "No, really, it was nothing," he insisted, breaking into a sweat.

      Five minutes later, Autolycus was the ashamed owner of his first honestly 
      acquired horse. He cursed a blue steak all the way to the pond, where he 
      dragged Doron to bathe a small cut on his arm. The youth kept trying to 
      kiss and tickle him, which made bandaging the cut a lengthy process, until 
      Adriana finally took pity on him and clouted Doron round the ears.

      While Doron and Adriana argued loudly, Autolycus leaned over the pond to 
      plunge his dirty, blood-stained hand into the still water. What he saw 
      there made him pause, mouth agape at his reflection. His hair needed a cut 
      - it had gotten longer and shaggier. But that wasn't the only worrying 
      part. His dark brown hair was now looking lighter, closer to a dirty 
      blond. Also, Doron had stolen him a tunic that he was wearing open to the 
      waist, but not the usual green and black leathers that Autolycus favoured. 
      No, now his buff chest was showing through a plain fawn tunic.

      Hercules. I'm turning into Hercules.

      Filled with a sudden fear, Autolycus scrabbled in a secret pocket for the 
      Gem of Purity, hauling it out to shake it in the air and scream his anger 
      at it.

      "Damn you, Artemis! You're turning me into Hercules."

      If the Huntress heard his outraged cries, she gave no sign.


      One day till Corinth.

      "Do I look taller to you? Maybe, a bit bigger? More muscles?"

      No one answered.

      Autolycus' party numbered five now, having added two more strays to it the 
      day before. They had stumbled across some thugs robbing a wealthy 
      merchant. Instead of joining in, Autolycus had fought off the robbers and 
      saved the merchant's life. As the cavalcade was putting itself back 
      together, Adriana had started screeching when she discovered two young 
      boys with scars on their backs and fresh whip marks on their legs, not 
      from the robbers but the tender mercies of their master.

      After a short but loud exchange, the two slaves became the property of 
      Autolycus, who sent the merchant on his way with such a kick to his 
      backside that the man wouldn't be able to sit without pain for a week. But 
      it wasn't all bad. He'd acquired a small sack of precious stones and a 
      chest of gold coins, that somehow fell into his saddlebags when no one was 
      looking, so it hadn't been a total loss.

      Even so, it was a grim-faced Autolycus that rode towards Corinth, looking 
      forward to offloading the Gem of Purity, and fucking King Iphicles into 
      next week.


      "Herc, is that you?"

      Autolycus ground his teeth, before turning to flash the insouciant grin of 
      the King of Thieves at Iolaus.

      "Iolaus, have a beer with me."

      "Hey, no thanks," muttered Iolaus, back-pedalling fast. "Sorry, thought 
      you were someone else. I prefer to keep my money."

      Sighing, Autolycus nursed his beer and waited for Iphicles to show up. The 
      dingy, smoky interior of Meg's made him feel better, shaking off the 
      memories of the great hall in the temple, the still, quiet loneliness. For 
      the past three nights, he had awoken screaming, the face of Artemis 
      pitiless in his dreams. Doron was always there to rub his back and whisper 
      softly, and to suck his cock when the mood took him. Autolycus didn't want 
      to admit it, with Doron nursing his balls in his mouth, but he was almost 
      starting to like being a bold, dashing adventurer. The sort of man that 
      helped damsels in distress and saved elderly farmers from mobs. It felt 
      kinda good. And wasn't necessarily incompatible with some high-class 
      thieving, witness the new gold and jewels that were currently with his 
      secret stash in Corinth. There were also the kisses, warm in the 
      firelight, and the sleeping tangled in each other's arms. It felt good to 
      be with someone like that.

      Autolycus fingered the sharp edges of the stone in his pocket. It felt 
      uncomfortable being here, on some levels. As if he was no longer the sort 
      of person that ought to feel at home in a place like this. Shit, it had 
      only been a few days. And if it was good enough for Iolaus, companion to 
      the legendary Hercules, it was surely alright for the King of Thieves. 
      Even so, the place stank of a misery that he had never noticed before. As 
      if some of the men and women didn't really want to be here. Meg seemed 
      harder, darker than she had a month ago. Strangely, he looked in her eyes 
      and saw the same expression that he had seen in the priestesses of 
      Artemis. It unsettled him.

      "Well, if it isn't the King of Thieves," came a sultry voice in his ear.

      Autolycus started. Fuck. If Iphicles could sneak up on him like that, he 
      really was losing his touch. 

      An explosion of perfume nearly made him gag as a woman sat down at his 
      other side, her large breasts thrust at his gaping face.

      Annia. Iphicles' intended.

      Even so, it was the musk of Iphicles' sweat that he noticed more, that 
      slipped in under his defences and had him licking dry lips. Maybe the king 
      had ridden here. Ridden hard. And now he needed a bath to get the sweat 
      off. Autolycus could give him one, with his tongue.

      Stay calm, he told himself. But the sheer presence of the king was so 
      overwhelming, in its dark, brooding sensuality, that not even the stone 
      could help him. He squeezed it like a talisman, and found himself wishing 
      that he could squeeze Iphicles' cock instead.

      "I'm going to wear a goddess' jewels and be a queen," crowed Annia, more 
      than a little drunk from the smell of her. Booze and cheap perfume. What 
      did Iphicles see in her? 

      But then there were her eyes, bright and knowing as they looked at 
      Autolycus in the dim light.

      "Shh, not here," snapped Iphicles. It didn't seem very lover-like.

      Iphicles grabbed Autolycus' hand. For a moment, he hoped that it would be 
      subjected to another sucking, even if he came in his pants in front of the 
      other johns. But instead, Iphicles hauled him to his feet. Fuck, the king 
      was strong. Admiring the sheen of sweat on bare muscles, and the flexing 
      of his ass, Autolycus followed along behind like a love-struck maiden on 
      the way to lose her virginity. 

      Annia brought up the rear, almost slavering in her excitement to see the 
      ruby. Autolycus tried not to notice her, and it was hard to see much else 
      anyway, with Iphicles' muscles to watch. Beautiful. The man was fucking 
      beautiful. Autolycus had never known anyone like this, and he wanted to 
      unwrap that hard body and drink the other man's come, even if only this 

      But he shouldn't want it, should he? What about Doron? Wasn't Autolycus 
      one of the good guys, now, robbing the rich and giving to the poor? Well, 
      Doron was poor. And what about the Gem of Purity? If it had guarded the 
      chastity of Artemis' priestesses for millennia, it was doing a pretty 
      piss-poor job of guarding *his*. 

      Iphicles dragged them both into one of the rooms for hire and shut the 
      door, closing out the smell of smoke and the raucous sounds of music and 
      laughter. He pushed Autolycus up against the door and groped him savagely, 
      twisting his aching erection with one hand while exploring his pockets 
      with the other.

      "You won't find it that way," managed Autolycus, before Iphicles closed 
      his mouth with a searing kiss. It was the kind of kiss that leaves a man 
      gasping for air, and wondering if his tonsils are still there. 

      "How did you get to be so hungry?" gasped Autolycus, when his lips were 
      finally freed. 

      Iphicles grinned at him, a strangely soft look in the subdued light of the 
      room. The search had turned up nothing, with the gem still safe in a 
      concealed pocket.

      "Where is the stone?" asked Iphicles. He yanked so hard on Autolycus' 
      balls that his scream would have brought people running, even in a 
      brothel, had Iphicles not covered his mouth again with his own and 
      swallowed his cries whole. For a while they continued in a sea of pain, 
      one man tugging and the other one screaming, until finally Iphicles seemed 
      to lose patience and pushed Autolycus away.

      Moaning with pain, still feeling the stone pressing into his side, 
      Autolycus sank to the floor and leaned hard against the door. This was not 
      going quite the way he'd planned.

      "Payment first, then you'll get the stone."

      He'd managed a coherent sentence as the pain receded. And his erection 
      still pressed against his fawn tunic, as if the savagery only turned him 
      on instead of scaring him half to death.

      "And what if I don't want to give you half my treasury?" asked Iphicles.

      "Half of our treasury," said Annia, stepping up to put her arm around her 
      bridegroom's waist. 

      "No honour among thieves?" Autolycus tried for a chuckle but it came out 
      sounding like a groan. "Fuck you, asshole."

      Iphicles smiled at that. Autolycus had seen a shark once, caught in a 
      fisherman's net. Its smile had been much friendlier.

      A hand reached down for some casual groping, clearly outlining Iphicles' 
      swollen cock against his leather pants. Despite himself, Autolycus 
      followed the hand with his eyes, desperate to replace it with his mouth. 
      Crawling up to his knees, pride forgotten, he pressed his mouth against 
      the hot, sweaty leather and inhaled deeply. Hearing Iphicles laughing 
      somewhere above him added to the rush, as he tongued the swollen cock 
      through a thin layer of leather.

      "Take it out," commanded Iphicles.

      Autolycus' hand reached up to loosen the fastenings that held his prize a 
      prisoner, tugging desperately at the pants to get them down past strong, 
      muscular thighs. And when he finally moaned his success, Iphicles' cock 
      sprang out huge and hard, almost slapping him in the face as he lurched 
      towards it with his tongue.

      Proud and erect, angry and purple. And huge. Autolycus whimpered.


      Like a thunderclap, the blow rang out in the quiet room. Autolycus crashed 
      to the floor, slapped away from the object of his worship.

      "Not yet. Annia, show him what I like."

      There was a jagged hole somewhere inside him, its edges cutting like a 
      knife, as he watched Annia slurp on that massive cock. On her knees, head 
      bobbing like a crazy woman. And next to his chest, he could still feel the 
      ruby if he tried, if he concentrated, through the haze of lust and tears 
      as another mouth gorged itself on Iphicles' cock.

      He wouldn't beg. The King of Thieves did not beg.

      "Please. Please let me. Please." That must be someone else, using what 
      sounded like his tongue and voice. Pleading over and over, being slapped 
      away again and again.

      "I'm going to come down her throat. Unless you give me the stone."

      Autolycus' cock was leaking inside his pants. He couldn't think, could 
      barely see straight. The smells of sex and lust permeated the air, made 
      him dizzy. Reaching into the secret pocket, his fingers touched the cold 
      ruby where it nestled next to his heart. Out it came, slowly, as if 
      reluctant. But his fingers were doing the pulling, the same fingers that 
      had been inside Iphicles' mouth. Was that why it felt like his hand 
      belonged to someone else, was moving at another's direction?

      He held the stone out with shaking fingers. Soft light flooded the room, 
      as it picked up the glow of the candles and reflected them back a 
      hundredfold. Annia's lips looked garishly red as they worked on Iphicles' 
      cock. The king's eyes were stormy and hard, hot with excitement, as he 
      grabbed Autolycus' hand and squeezed it tight on the sharp edges of the 

      "I like a little blood," he whispered as he pulled the ruby from 
      Autolycus' nerveless fingers, slippery where the hard edges had penetrated 
      the skin. Their eyes never left each other as Iphicles licked the ruby
      clean, swirling the blood on his tongue, and then secreted it somewhere, 
      faster than even Autolycus could follow.

      Gone. It was gone.

      Autolycus sagged, as though someone had cut his strings, and fell forward 
      on the floor. Strong hands seized him and suddenly he was airborne, 
      landing on the bed with a crash that knocked the wind out of him. Even as 
      he struggled to get his breath back, the sound of fabric ripping alerted 
      him to the fact that Iphicles was tearing the seat out of his pants. 

      "Now, you get your payment."

      Without so much as a quick spit or finger by way of preliminaries, 
      Autolycus was breached by a huge, fist-sized cockhead. He bit the pillow 
      and tried to relax, ignoring the pain, pushing back to ease Iphicles' 
      entry. From there, it went hard and fast, the tearing of nerve ends and 
      what felt like the churning of his guts by a massive spearhead. It hurt 
      for a long time, as sweat dripped on his back and soaked his tunic, the 
      relentless slap of flesh on flesh the only sound in his ears. Surely that 
      wailing wasn't coming from him, but from some other desperate fucker, far 

      In and out. In and out. And the harder Iphicles fucked him, strangely, the 
      less pain there was, until finally he was groaning with pleasure, caught 
      up in the breathless agony of it all.

      "Fuck me. Harder."

      And Iphicles obliged. Slamming into him. Battering his prostate. Making 
      him scream with pleasure, over what sounded like quiet sobs. Maybe that 
      was Annia. Maybe not. All Autolycus knew was that he had never felt so 
      filled, so dominated, so safe, in all his life.


      But nothing lasts forever, and finally the speed of Iphicles' thrusts 
      alerted him to the fact that the king was nearing orgasm.

      "I want to see your face as I come inside you," came the harsh voice 
      behind him. Without missing a beat, Iphicles lifted Autolycus in his arms 
      and twisted, turning him in midair while still inside him. Autolycus 
      scissored his legs and hoped for the best, somehow finding the energy to 
      heave his legs up when it didn't seem possible that he could. It was a 
      spectacle of raw strength that excited Autolycus beyond belief. He now 
      found himself cradled in Iphicles' embrace, literally hanging off the 
      other man's cock, clawing at his chest as he writhed and moaned. Still 
      grinning that shark's grin, Iphicles thrust upwards and came, the pulses 
      filling Autolycus deep inside and pushing him over the edge. Eyes locked, 
      Autolycus screamed his orgasm in Iphicles' face, rubbing the evidence into 
      the king's chest and reaching up for a kiss.

      But Iphicles refused to kiss him, pulling out and dumping him on the bed 
      like a used dishrag.

      Autolycus rolled over, stunned, and then started to make choking noises 
      into the pillow. He didn't want Iphicles to see if he was soaking it with 
      his tears.

      "Thanks for the good job, thief. I might hire you again." The voice was 
      redolent with satisfaction and amusement.

      There was no other sound in the room for a minute or two, after the 
      closing of the door. Autolycus writhed on the bed, alone and howling. But 
      it wasn't with tears. It was with laughter.


      The forest was full of small night noises. An owl hooted somewhere nearby. 
      Another bird took off suddenly, spooked by the approaching human. There 
      was enough moonlight for the human to be seen clearly, if anyone were
      watching. His approach was cautious, as he neared the small pool where the 
      goddess Artemis was said by the credulous to bathe.

      Autolycus wasn't sure how credulous he was anymore, if he ever had been. 
      But even so, he pulled out Doron's brightly coloured handkerchief and tied 
      it round his eyes, so that he couldn't see. Better safe than sorry.

      "Artemis," he called softly. "Artemis."

      Nothing. No reason to expect otherwise, really.

      He turned to go, and knew instantly that she was standing right behind 
      him. Autolycus couldn't see anything, but he knew she was there, could 
      feel it in the prickling of his skin and the way that the hairs on his 
      neck were suddenly standing on end. Shivering, he sank to his knees, 
      groping hastily in a secret pocket next to his heart.

      The Gem of Purity was probably glowing in the moonlight, though he 
      couldn't be sure. He held it out towards the presence near him, and waited 
      with more fear than he had expected. He had faced death so many times, but 
      it had never felt this real, this inevitable.

      "It's just a stone."

      Her voice was light and deadly as an arrow.

      Autolycus started to shake. "No, it's the real thing," he whispered. "I 
      lifted it while I was coming."

      Somehow, he was sure that Artemis would know exactly what he was talking 
      about. Then he blanched at the thought of mentioning his orgasm to the 
      Virgin Goddess. She could kill him for that alone.

      "It's just a stone," she repeated. 

      "I don't understand," he said, bowing his head.

      "My priestesses are chaste by choice, and by devotion." The voice was 
      softer now, though still full of power. "I know they seem hard to you, 
      like the edges of the ruby. But it is not your place to judge. And there's 
      no magic to it. It's just a stone. It is what it always was. A stone. It 
      is no more the power of purity, than I am the statue on which you found 

      "But, it changed me, it made me different." Foolish to argue with a 
      goddess, but even so - it had changed him, hadn't it?

      "You are what you always were."

      That wasn't very reassuring. "And what's that?" Damn the note of mockery 
      in his voice, that he couldn't control, even now.

      "Mine," said Artemis. "Now, take off your blindfold but do not look at me. 
      Look in the waters of the pool."


      Heart thudding, Autolycus did as he was told, searching the still waters 
      in the moonlight, terrified that he would see the goddess reflected there 
      and she would have to kill him.

      Instead, he saw Iphicles and Annia, lying in each other's arms at Meg's, 
      their flushed and sweaty faces swimming on the surface of the water. Below 
      them, lying deeper in the pool, he could see other faces, other bodies. A 
      grey-eyed woman with an owl on her shoulder. A short-haired man in black, 
      studded leather. He'd seen both of them before, courtesy of his 
      entanglements with Hercules.

      "Ares and Athena," he said.

      "Shush," whispered the goddess, right in his ear. Autolycus jumped and 
      almost fell in. Fuck. What would have happened if he had? Not a simple 
      dunking, he was sure of that.


      Autolycus listened.

      "You win the bet, bro," said the grey-eyed woman he had known as Annia. 
      "You're more powerful than the Gem of the Virgin. It turned him into a 
      complete do-gooder on the road, but one sniff of your cock and he was a 
      helpless slut."

      Ares sighed gloomily. "But he stole it back. How did I fucking miss that? 
      And I don't know if he was really going to be monogamous with that little 

      "That just proves my point. He's a thief. One good ride from you, brother, 
      and he reverted to type."

      "He stole from the merchant on the road," objected Ares.

      "That was to punish a villain. When he stole the gem back from you, he 
      broke his bargain."

      "I never paid him what we agreed." Ares was tonguing Athena's throat, but 
      it didn't seem to be distracting her. Unlike Autolycus, who was rock hard 
      in his pants, and hoping that Artemis wouldn't notice.

      "No, but you paid him what he secretly wanted. And he knows that. So he 
      did a thoroughly wicked thing, breaking his own twisted little code, when 
      he stole it back."

      "That means you win the side-bet. Damn."

      "I guess we're both winners, then, aren't we?" said Athena.

      Their faces and voices faded, but before the pool became mirror-clear 
      again, Autolycus caught a brief glimpse of Doron's smiling face. It did 
      nothing for his erection, but he guessed that Artemis wanted him to see 
      good faith as well as bad in her special pool. Then there were only stars, 
      glimmering in the still water.

      Basically, Autolycus decided that the glimpse of Doron meant Artemis was 
      less likely to kill him, which, all in all, seemed like a good thing.

      "So, what happens now?" he asked, allowing a little hope to creep into his 

      The silence was heavy, like the light of the moon all around him, 
      caressing his senses with its touch.

      "Now," said Artemis, rattling the arrows in her quiver, "we plan our 

      The End.






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