What Happens at the Tavern Stays at the Tavern

Since Tolkien’s time, many authors have taken readers along on elaborate treks through fantastic worlds. In What Happens at the Tavern Stays at the Tavern, we asked writers to tackle the pauses and interstices in a fantasy quest. What kinds of steamy adventures happen behind the scenes, when our heroes and heroines are trekking along their journey?

The word “fantasy” evokes many different responses in people, but the epic fantasy quest is the heart of the genre. Heroes and heroines set off to defeat evil. Haven’t you ever wondered what happens behind the scenes, during the downtime the authors gloss over? “What Happens at the Tavern Stays at the Tavern” gives us the peek behind the curtains we’ve all been waiting for.

In “Encounter at the Lonely Dragon,” Elinor Gray stays true to the title of the anthology, telling the tale of a would-be quester who has an unexpected run-in with a former lover in the secluded loft of a tavern’s stable. “Orin’s Strand” by Vivien Jackson weaves a story of a seer in love who can’t resist the temptation to use her powers―and her body―to bind her lover to her. Kierstin Cherry’s “Paget and the Princess” follows Paget, a Knight of the Guard, sworn to protect her princess―and her princess’s chastity―who nonetheless can’t resist the princess’s warm bosom and soft lips.

In “The Place Where Heroes Are Made” by Sarah Ellis, we find ourselves in another tavern, this one run by a family that beds those heroes marked by the gods as doomed so that they don’t go childless into unknown lands. “Crystalline Sorcery” by Julie Cox explores the sexual identity of Heid, a female warrior who longs to be able to penetrate as a man, and her elven companion, a priestess who insists that the divide between male and female is not so inflexible as Heid thinks. Finally, “Flings and Arrows” by Andrea Trask lets us in on the journey of Alleria, a woman who is the key to fulfilling a prophecy―but when a mysterious man kidnaps her and reaches between her legs to confirm that she’s a virgin, all may be lost.

In her latest anthology, editor Jennifer Levine invites you to escape into a world of fantasy, one where you get magic, warriors, fantasy worlds, and sex.

From Encounter at the Lonely Dragon by Elinor Gray:

Gavin was just thinking of blowing out his small lamp when he heard someone come into the stable and then heard that same someone climbing the ladder up to the loft. He sat up, disliking the idea of being caught flat on his back, and as the someone’s head rose above the edge of the trap door, Gavin’s heart froze in his chest.
The newcomer paused in his climb, regarding Gavin with badly disguised shock. “Gavin.”

“Ren,” Gavin said. His supper felt heavy and unsettled in his gut, while at the same time his traitorous libido perked up at the sight of his former lover. Hell and death.

Gavin had met Ren Lear on his last quest, the one to the Singing Springs, several years before. They had come together like tinder in a fire, flaring fast and hot. Gavin had never had sex that good in his life, and he’d even imagined himself rather in love despite the brevity of the affair. Ren was sharp-tongued and clever, with a sweet nature and magnificent hands, and, as much as Gavin hated to admit it now, it had been the best adventure he’d been on. Up until it had come to its nasty end.

“What are ye doin’ here?” Ren asked, completing his climb and dropping his satchel in the hay. His Northern brogue was stronger than Gavin remembered it–he must have been back home during the time Gavin had set up shop in Delphia–and it sent an irritatingly pleasant shiver down Gavin’s spine. Gavin couldn’t help giving him an assessing once-over, from the toes of his black suede boots to the top of his head. The last two years had been very good to him, and he was even more handsome now that he had grown up a little. His eyes were the color of a storm cloud, his jaw firm and straight, and his dark, smooth hair was longer than Gavin had ever seen it, reaching to the middle of his back and bound back in a braid. He was wearing the all-black rogue’s uniform Gavin was familiar with: tight, soft leggings that hugged his muscular thighs and a long-sleeved tunic that was belted firmly at the waist. His sleeves were narrow, giving him room to move but offering nothing to get caught on rocks or in doors, and his knife and lock-picking kit were in place at his hip.
“Sleeping,” Gavin said, rather sharply, tearing his eyes away from Ren’s midsection. He tried very hard not to wonder if the body under the uniform had improved the way the rest of him promised.

“Of course,” Ren said. Without looking, Gavin knew he was smiling. “I meant, what are ye doin’ in town?”

“Same as you, I imagine,” Gavin said. He hated to just sit here, wrapped in his blanket and vulnerable, while Ren towered above him. The rogue had no power over him, save their history, but their position made him feel weak. Standing up, however, was out of the question. That would just be peculiar.

“Lookin’ for a quest, then, are ye?” Ren said, and now that he was done staring in surprise at Gavin, he moved to unroll a blanket from his satchel. Gavin clenched his fingers in the hay beside him, anger rising at the man’s gall–to think that Gavin was going to allow him to sleep beside him, tonight, after what he’d done.

“Afraid so,” he said, and turned away.

“Gavin,” Ren said, and he sounded confused. Good. “What’s–all this time, and a lucky coincidence to find ye here, and now you won’ even talk to me?”

“It isn’t coincidence,” Gavin said wearily, sitting back up. Ella knew every bit of the saga Gavin had told her, two years ago when it had all gone to hell, and no doubt she’d jumped at the chance to throw them back together again. She didn’t believe Ren had a scrap of malice in him, was convinced it had all been a big mistake. She’d probably lied to him, told Gavin the inn was full up when it wasn’t, just so she could get them in the same room.

Ren sat down carefully on his own blanket and began to unlace his boots. He wasn’t more than a few yards away, and Gavin’s body was humming with anticipation. Just looking at Ren, remembering everything they’d done together, made his cock swell. He adjusted the folds of his shirt as subtly as he could, gritting his teeth in irritation against the unbidden arousal.

“What do ye mean by that?” Ren asked, once he’d taken off his boots and set them aside. He unhooked his belt casually, as if Gavin hadn’t watched him do it a hundred times, and laid it beside his boots. The lock-pick kit jingled delicately as it settled on the hay. Gavin remembered how sharp his knife was, too, and how proud Ren was of it. Now Ren’s black shirt billowed out, disguising the hard, lean lines of his body, and he folded his legs under himself, soft leggings shifting as he moved and pulling taut around his thighs. Gavin scowled.

“Ella’s got it out for me,” he said. “The barmaid. We have a history.”
Ren’s eyes narrowed. “Do ye now?”

“Do you have anything better to do besides interrogate me?” Gavin snapped.

Ren looked taken aback for a moment, but then the ghost of a smile crept onto his face. “Ah,” he said, “ye’re just as prickly as I remember.”

“I’m not prickly,” Gavin said, sounding prickly even to his own ears. “I’m tired. I walked a long way. Goodnight.”

“Wait, Gavin,” Ren said, as Gavin tried to turn over again, “I know–I know things are strange. Between ye and me.” Gavin rolled his eyes. He was trying very hard to be civil, but Ren was right. Things were strange and unresolved. His body wanted very much to be reminded of the feeling of Ren’s hands, and his mouth felt dry with desire. Ren was perfectly magnificent with his tongue, and Gavin could imagine, or remember, how it felt to have that splendid man between his thighs. But through it all ran a thread of betrayal and desolation that Gavin couldn’t shake. Ren went on: “But I’m sorry. I truly am. I was greedy, and impulsive, and I’m sorry.”

Gavin blinked. He’d been expecting a row, or a shouting match. Ren had a slow temper, but he could be riled up with the right application of force or attitude. Gavin’s own temper was notoriously quick, and he was always ready for a fight. But Ren was taking the initiative, and it caught Gavin well off guard.

Ren smiled at him, tight and uncertain, like he knew he was going out on a limb and he wasn’t sure how successful he was going to be. Gavin hated to see that look on his face, only because he greatly preferred it when he was laughing, or teasing, or pulling off a bit of thievery for show.

“I thought ye’d come back,” Ren said, “and I know why ye didn’. I don’ blame ye, but I wanted ye to know that I’m sorry. I–I didn’ mean to.” His voice had gone very soft, and then his hand was on Gavin’s knee. It was warm and firm, exactly the way Gavin remembered it, and he leaned closer to Ren without thinking. He swallowed hard, all the stupid, lovesick emotion he had been glad to tamp down welling up again. Ren even smelled familiar. Gavin knew that if he touched Ren’s hand it would be soft and delicate, all the better for picking pockets and making trouble. If he put his hand in Ren’s hair, it would be thick and silky and good for grabbing. If he kissed him–
Ren solved the question for him, leaning in decisively and pressing their lips together. Gavin opened his mouth instantly, and Ren’s tongue slipped in, soft and questing, first just teasing, and then more demanding as Gavin clutched Ren’s tunic and dragged him closer.
With enough pulling Ren was bearing him down onto the blanket beneath them, spread out in the loft’s soft hay. His body was a welcome, heavy, familiar weight, and he planted his elbows on either side of Gavin’s head and kissed him hungrily. Gavin kissed back, desperate, aching for him. He’d gone two years without a fuck, without so much as a simple notion of attraction to anyone. Clearly, he’d been waiting and hadn’t realized it.

“No,” he said, pulling away suddenly.”I can’t. This is–”

“What,” Ren panted, looking down at him with dark, dazed eyes. His face was flushed and his hair was escaping its braid, drifting in his face. “What’s wrong?”

“You fucking left,” Gavin said, trying to shove Ren away now rather than draw him near. “You and Alona and Moul, you all left with the gems while I stared down a gelatinous cube. I could have died!”

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