tagSci-Fi & FantasyDemon Child Ch. 03

Demon Child Ch. 03

byXantu©

Chapter 3: A new way of life.

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Jhardron woke in the dim morning light with the sour smell of the girl in his nostrils. He looked over at the girl huddled asleep at the back of his tent. He debated his wisdom in acquiring a ha'akh now. The Twisted Dagger was only half way through their conquest of the remote Northern provinces. Dealing with an untrained girl on campaign could slow them down. But the regiment had been working hard and to have a ha'akh to offer as a reward would be good for morale. This one could bring them luck as well.

Jhardron jerked on the rope attached to her ankle. She lifted her head, blinking, disoriented. He jerked again, "Tet." She scooted out the opening of the tent and stood awkwardly, the hobbles on her ankles shortening her strides to short mincing steps.

In the early morning light he looked her over. She was completely nude except for a filthy rag still tied tightly around her head and the thick layers of grime coating her skin. He reached over and plucked the rag from her head. She wailed and reached for the cloth but he pushed her hands away. She then tried to cover her head with her hands. He stared at the short tufts of scarlet hair peeking between her fingers. She stood frozen, her head bowed, the skin of her face strangely changing color, turning red, tears in her odd pale eyes.

Jhardron was struck that this woman was far more concerned that her head was bare than her venya. He pushed her hands down to her sides and looked at the odd hair covering her head. It was the same red shade as the fur of her venya. It had been cut as closely to her head as possible but who ever had down it had just chopped it off unevenly. He could see her scalp almost black with dirt in between the clumps of hair. He could not help but think to himself, 'a wild-color mare', a common phrase to describe an unusually colored horse.

She was thin, almost starved looking, with prominent ribs and hip bones, but he could see whipcord muscles in her legs and arms, the ripples of muscles in her belly. He could see the marks of the hands of the men who had used her too roughly the night before, but he also noted that they were over older, yellower bruises of injuries from days earlier. This one was had been mistreated before, possibly a slave, certainly an outcast.

Jhardron stepped to cooking pot filled with morning stew, a thick mush of grains, nuts and dried fruit. Picking up a wooden bowl he filled it with a generous serving, he handed it to her.

The girl looked startled and flashed a puzzled look at the food. Ignoring the spoon in his hand, she dipped a finger into it she tasted it and then began to eat, rapidly scooping the food into her mouth with her fingers, as if she expected to have it taken away at any moment. She carefully cleaned the bowl, repeatedly running her fingers around the bottom and licking them off carefully. She looked up at him, gratitude clear in her eyes, and taking the bowl she made a drinking movement and made a soft pleading sound. He nodded and walked to a bucket sitting near his tent door, he pointed at the water filling it. She carefully shuffled to the bucket and dipped the bowl and drank.

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Neekah was quivering with confused feelings. She sensed this warrior's patience and curiosity. To be around so many people and not feel their fear and loathing was a new experience. No one had given her food in so long she had forgotten it was possible. It had tasted wonderful. She stood over the bucket of water and filled the wooden bowl and drank. She was so thirsty; she dipped and drank twice more, sighing as the cool water seemed to flow directly into her veins.

Neekah flinched back toward the opening of the tent as a group of five riders galloped up to the edge of the camp. Dragging their mounts to a sudden stop, kicking up a thick cloud of dust, they vaulted to the ground. An old heavy set warrior shouted a greeting and made a jeering comment. Many of the warriors laughed as the riders busied themselves tying the tall sweat streaked horses to a rope at the edge of camp.

She looked around the tents, looking at the camp for the first time. About a dozen tents surrounded some cooking fires. She could see several dozen men going moving about the camp but they seemed to be deliberately avoiding looking toward her or the man standing beside her. Neekah sensed that their manner was not from fear so much as respect. Many tall horses were tied along ropes at one side of the camp, most were black but a few were shades of red, brown and gray.

The air was cool and a small shiver shook her. She wrapped her arms around herself. For the first time she noticed the fresh burn on the back of her lower arm. Looking closely at it, she could see it was a circle divided into two halves with a line piercing through it. Below it was some odd lines and dots.

The man took her arm and pointed at it, "Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger" Then he pointed at her chest, "Ha'akh Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger". He pointed at himself. "Jhardron Khan Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger." He pointed at her and waited.

Neekah pointed at herself and said, "Neekah."

He shook his head, "Abak." Pointing at her again he repeated, "Ha'akh Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger."

Neekah pointed at herself and hesitantly said, "Hak Bak'Tai...", and paused trying to remember the long string of sounds.

He smiled and nodded and repeated, "Ha'akh Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger." She got it correct the second try. Glad that she seemed to be beginning to understand what he wanted from her, he reached to pat her on the head. He frowned when she automatically shied from the hand reaching to touch her. Neekah did not think he was going to hit her, but she had not ever been touched in kindness. Any hand reaching to touch her was alien and frightening. He leaned down and began to untie her ankles and taking the rope he tied it in a careful knot around her neck.

"Ha'akh Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger, tet." He strode off giving a small prompting tug on the rope leash around her neck. He strode quickly, stopping to give some orders to some raiders standing on the outskirts of the camp. Once more she was struck that the men were careful to avoid looking at her. Jhardron strode off, his long legs striding quickly. She had to trot to keep up.

Soon they were at the edge of the small creek at the base of the Ramaldi valley. He pointed at the water and said something. Neekah looked at the water and then at him, her head tipped to one side in confusion. He shook his head and made a soft exasperated sound. Dropping the rope, he began to undress, pulling off his tunic and loincloth. She looked at him curiously. He was tall even compared to the other raiders, long rows of ridged scars ran down his chest and abdomen and as he turned she could see matching rows on his back. His organ was at rest, nestled neatly between his thighs, with thick black hair growing around it.

Neekah idly toyed with the thought of running but somehow she did not feel afraid. He leaned down and picked up the rope and saying firmly, "Tet.", he waded out into the water until he was waist deep. Neekah reluctantly followed him, disliking the sensation of the cold water on her skin. He reached down and picked up a handful of clean sand and began to firmly scrub her skin. She tried to push the cold gritty hand away from her but he jerked the rope around her neck and glared at her. She knew he was in no mood to be thwarted. She stood miserable, shivering as he washed her from head to toe.

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Initially Jhardron was angry that this woman seemed to know nothing about washing herself. But soon he was fascinated with the color of the skin that began to appear as the layers of dirt rinsed away, creamy white where her clothing had covered her, soft golden brown on her face, arms and legs. Her skin was quick to show pink as the sand rubbed across it; he had never seen anything like it. If he pressed a finger against her reddened skin a white spot would appear and then the redness would spread back across it. He soon realized that he was seeing her blood beneath her skin. She truly was a wild-color girl.

Quickly taking a firm hold of her neck her turned her away from him and bent her over sharply. She yelped and tried to twist from his hand as he forced her to expose her venya. He could see the same redness that had held his attention yesterday but beyond being somewhat swollen he could see no damage from the night before. He pulled her up to standing and went on with his inspection.

Her hair was even more fiery red now that it was clean, droplets of water sparkling in the rough clumps scattered across her head. He reached up to touch it and was once more angered when she cringed like a beaten dog, like she expected him to strike her for no reason. He impatiently pulled her to face him and forced her to stand straight. Looking her in the eye he reached up and ran his hand across the strange red hair. It felt strangely soft to his hand. He could feel her tremble under his hand. He felt a stirring in his jhambar. He ignored it. As Khan of the regiment he would use her last.

Jhardron dressed quickly and led her back toward the camp. Stopping at a wagon parked outside the circle of tents he dug through a pile of clothing and handed her a long simple soft brown shift. She slipped it over her head and carefully threaded the rope around her neck through the neck hole of the simple dress. Sleeveless it fell to below her knees. It was the finest piece of clothing Neekah had ever worn, she smoothed the clean cloth under her fingers and looked up at Jhardron with a huge smile.

His heart lurched, this woman's joy showed through her face like the blood beneath her skin. Her eyes were sparkling, her even white teeth shown against her red lips. This wild-color woman was beautiful.

Jhardron called to Tim'kah. The young boy ran up. It was his first season as a Bak'Tai raider, barely fourteen years old; he was showing great promise to become a fine warrior. "Take this new ha'akh. Show her how to do chores around the camp. My orders are clear; no man may use her until after the archery competition tonight. She will be the prize for the winners. Watch her closely. She may try to run away."

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Neekah looked at the young boy that Jhardron was talking to. Barely more than a boy, his torso was unscarred and he wore no gold ornaments. At first she was slightly alarmed when Jhardron handed the rope tied around her neck to this youngster. He was much too close in age to the gangs of boys who had made her life hell the last few years. Her fears faded as she sensed nothing more than his youthful pride and eagerness to please.

He stood before her and proudly pointed at his chest, "Tim'kah Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger". Swaggering with self importance, his eyes flashing with pride at this new responsibility he pulled firmly on the leash around her neck, "Ha'akh tet." He marched off with her in tow. He led her to a wide meadow with a large herd of horses grazing on the far side. He leaned down and grabbed a filthy stiff hide with a rope tied to it and dragged it out into the field. He pointed at the horses and said, "Marmak." Leaning down he picked up a large handful of horse manure, "Ekh Marmak," and threw it onto the hide. He pointed at another pile of dung, looking at her expectantly.

Neekah nodded and repeated, "Ekh Marmak," and picked up the droppings and put it on the skin. Together they gathered horse manure until the hide was loaded. They each took hold of the rope and dragged the heavy load back to the camp. They spread it to dry in the sun.

Tim'kah picked up four leather water buckets and giving a gentle tug on her rope he strode towards the creek. Dropping the buckets he knelt hand began to vigorously scrub the layers of shit off his hands, gesturing for her to do the same. She washed her hands and then leaned down to take a long drink.

Together Tim'kah and Neekah made many trips to the creek and back filling all the water buckets in the camp.

Next Tim'kah led her to the wagon and searching around in a bag he got out a generous handful of dried meat, some nuts, and a melon. He handed her half the meat and nuts, pointing for her to sit on the ground he sat down and began to eat. Neekah ravenously began to wolf down the food, hardly chewing. Tim'kah looked at her somewhat alarmed and tried to say something.

Sensing that she had done something wrong, Neekah stopped and looked at him and at the food in his hands, suddenly aware of that she was stuffing the food into her mouth with desperate intensity. She blushed and dropped her hands into her lap. Tim'kah said something, his voice soft and reassuring, and smiled, offering her the food he had reserved for himself. She shook her head and deliberately slowed her movements, taking time to chew and taste as she ate the rest of the meat and nuts.

Tim'kah pulled a dagger from his belt and began to cut the melon in slices, laying them out before them. Neekah looked at him waiting for permission and he smiled and nodded. She picked up a slice and forcing herself to eat slowly, she ate the soft sweet flesh, swallowing down the juice, sighing in happiness. Neekah could not remember when she had eaten so much in one day. Her stomach felt wonderfully full.

She said, "Thank you," in the Ramaldi language and he looked at her, his head tipped to the side. She pointed at him and said "Tim'kah."

He nodded and said, "Ha."

She pointed at herself and said, "Ha'akh Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger."

"Ha."

She pointed toward the tents and said, "Jhardron."

He nodded, "Ha, Jhardron Khan Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger."

She pointed at the horses, "Marmak."

"Ha."

Neekah began to point at other objects and quiz Tim'kah about the names of everything, repeating the new words over and over. He told her all the words, nodding in approval as she learned more.

Together they did many of the chores around the camp, gathering firewood, replenishing the fires, stirring the thick porridges of grain and nuts as they slowly simmered over the fires. Several carcasses of goats were slowly roasting over fires, the smell of the cooking meat wonderful to Neekah's nose. To have so much food around her was intoxicating.

Late in the afternoon the men around the camp began to talk more loudly and Neekah was aware of many covert glances being sent her direction. They were getting out bows and she could hear many loud taunts being tossed back and forth between as they stretched the strings, limbering up their arms.

Tim'kah began to talk rapidly, his tone excited and giving a little jerk on her leash he trotted off to the field where they had gathered dung that morning. There was a rowdy group of raiders, joking and laughing on one side. They were all holding bows. They fell suddenly silent when Tim'kah led her up to them.

Neekah was happy to see Jhardron standing among the men. Tim'kah handed the rope to Jhardron and went to stand with the men. Several made loud jeering statements to him, but Jhardron barked an order and they fell silent.

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Jhardron stood before the men of his regiment and addressed them. "This archery contest will determine who will have use of the ha'akh tonight. The top five will win her. The next five will have her the following night. This order will continue until every man has had his turn. This ha'akh is new to this regiment and I have decided that she shall serve no more than five men a night. I am not going to let you bastards fuck her to death." The men roared in laughter at his sudden coarse language.

Jhardron was a new Khan for this regiment, the son of a trusted advisor to the Aga Khan. Initially he had not been welcomed by the veterans. But he had repeatedly demonstrated he was a fine military strategist and had led them with a fair and firm hand. He had led them to victory many times with few casualties. "The boys and the Khan will use her last." The men nodded in approval. His willingness to go last demonstrated great control and commitment to his regiment.

A target was set up a hundred paces away from a line marked in the dirt. Two men stepped up and aimed carefully and let fly. Both arrows struck the small black mark the size of a man's heart at the center of the target. Both men shouted in triumph, swaggering back to the group. Nearly all the arrows hit the small black mark with only five of the fifty raiders being eliminated on the first round. The losers laughing with acceptance moved out of the group.

They moved the target another twenty paces away. On this round many more of the raiders were eliminated, the growing crowd of losers cheering their friends as the competition progressed. The target was moved further away.

When there were five left, Jhardron walked up and stopped the competition. "You have done well. Twisted Dagger has the finest archers of the Bak'Tai. I would wager my finest stallion on any competition you enter." All the men cheered. "We have determined our first five winners. I leave the rest of you to continue the competition to decide the order of the rest of the winners."

He turned to the five men. "You will determine amongst you what order you will use her. If there is a dispute, use seniority to decide. I will not tolerate any cruelty or abuse. If she needs punishment, you will report to me and I will decide. Each of you may use her no more than twice. I would urge you to be gentle. She has little understanding of her role of servant to the regiment. I trust you to respect the goddess and the regiment." He handed the rope tied around her neck to the most senior warrior and walked away.

Jhardron was not surprised that Harnum was in the first group of five. The archery master was a sure winner in any contest of bows. He was also a senior officer in the regiment. Jhardron had spoken privately to him about his wish that this girl not be traumatized. Harnum had been married for many years, returning to his wife in the temple city during the winter seasons. He had many sons in the Bak'Tai. He would be a good teacher for both the girl and the younger warriors.

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Neekah stood watching Jhardron talking to the small group of five men. His words were incomprehensible to her. Her attention wandered and she began to watch the others who were continuing to shoot arrows at the target. Suddenly Jhardron was walking away and when she turned to follow him she realized he no longer had the rope in his hands. Turning, she flinched back to see the rope in the hands of another, a heavy set older warrior, his body heavily scarred and white streaks showing in the crest of hair on his head.

The older man smiled and spoke softly like he would to a frightened colt first being trained. Neekah felt a wave of fear; she could feel the sexual tension in the group. She could feel their eyes on her. The five men were whispering amongst themselves and nodding. The older man holding her rope held his hand out to her and said softly, "Ha'akh tet."

Neekah looked at this man and craned her head looking for Jhardron or Tim'kah. She looked back warily at this man holding her rope. Neekah knew when she was caught; she sighed and reached out her hand. The older man nodded in approval and gently held her hand not pulling her toward him, letting her stand trembling for many long minutes. Neekah began to wonder what was happening. She could tell they wanted her but she also sensed calmness and restraint.

The man holding her hand pointed at his chest, "Harnum Hak Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger."

Neekah was beginning to recognize that the phrase 'Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger' was a general term to identify all the people of this camp. Suddenly it struck her that the name they called her, ha'akh Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger, meant she was one of them too. She pointed at herself and repeated "ha'akh Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger." She pointed at him and said, "Harnum Bak'Tai Twisted Dagger." Then she pointed at herself and said "ha'akh." and at him and said "Harnum."

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