The Rebellious Slave Ch. 22byHisPet21©
Author's Note: Thanks for your patience, fabulous readers. This particular chapter gave me a really, really hard time, but here it is! Hopefully, the next chapter won't give me so much trouble, but we'll see. In the meantime, enjoy, and please feel free to leave comments, ratings, and suggestions. You know I love the stuff. Oh, and also, a special shout out to Inspector123. You'll see why. ;)
Kara relaxed back into her seat with a sigh of contentment and allowed her eyes to roam, soaking in the lighthearted atmosphere of "The Moldy Bucket: Inn and Tavern." She had chosen a large, wooden table in a far corner of the main dining hall, the better with which to survey her environment. Surrounded by so much laughter and music, it was hard to believe that her dark past existed and for a moment, Kara could almost believe the entire ordeal was a dream.
Brightly colored, mismatched cloths decorated every table, gorgeously painted nature scenes lined the walls, and the wooden floors shook with a cacophony of dancing feet. But Kara was most entranced by an enormous fireplace taking up the wall directly opposite. Orange and red flame twisted fretfully around splintering wood, filling the air with the scent of apple wood. Then, there were roughly a dozen small, crystal chandeliers distributed around the room, reflecting its warm light into every shadowed nook and cranny. Near the bar, a band of youngsters had set up and were playing loud, obnoxious music. Kara laughed as the lead singer swayed his long hair to the beat, bawling out incomprehensible lyrics. Well, except for the occasional curse word, Kara thought with a grin. Everywhere, there was chatter and blinding cigarette smoke and drunkards on unsteady feet. It was hard not to get wrapped up in the happy noise, to be swept away into an oblivion of sensation.
Outside, heavy rain fell in torrents, its droplets pelting against the roof and creating a rhythmic sound that was almost hypnotic. Occasionally, a flash of lightning would illuminate the darkened streets just beyond the bar's foggy window panes, so that and Kara could make out horse drawn carriages as they stomped through the mud and children splashing around in puddles, only to be herded indoors by their vigilant mothers. Kara herself was still drying off from the downpour, her hands wrapped around an earthen mug of something hot and soothing. When she'd asked the bartender for a recommendation, he had brought her this and although she didn't recognize the drink, she liked it. It resembled coffee—although it was a little sweeter—and from its warming effects, Kara could tell it contained alcohol, even if she couldn't smell the stuff. With an eager gulp, Kara finished off the rest of her drink and trembled pleasurably as the warm liquid coiled through her, making her entire body tingle and then relax in waves.
When she finally looked up from her empty cup, Kara saw that both Uncle Florence and Ben had finally come in from the violence of the storm. They were apparently in the middle of some lighthearted conversation, laughing loudly and slapping each other on the back. Both men were an absolute mess, with their hair windblown, their boots flecked with mud, and their clothes soaked through, but neither seemed to mind. Tossing their cloaks to the nearest doorman, they soon spotted Kara and began the difficult task of dodging dancing couples and drunken patrons on their way to her table. It took a moment for Kara to notice, but as Ben approached her, the smile on his face seemed to widen and his eyes became mischievous. It was a contagious expression and soon, Kara could feel a similar smile spreading across her face and her heart fluttering ever so slightly. Maybe it was the smokey room, or the alcohol, or their last evening together, but Kara was growing rather fond of Ben.
"Wow," Ben gasped, stepping back a little in shock as soon as he'd reached Kara's table. His eyes eagerly traced her body, starting at the brown hair framing her delicate face and ending at the curve of her hips, seated comfortably in their chair. It was the first time Ben had seen Kara in something besides baggy clothes or a prison uniform and she was pleased with the reaction. The tavern owner's wife had generously lent Kara some old clothes, among them a short red dress, a pair of fishnet stockings, and some black heels. For the first time in a while, Kara felt beautiful. "You look absolutely amazing," Ben continued, confirming her own thoughts and gaping stupidly at her. "I mean it, too. You're stunning."
"You, on the other hand, are an absolute mess!" Kara laughed, gently punching Ben's arm and desperately trying to hide the blush rising in her cheeks. But it would do no good to be rude and Kara patted the seat beside her invitingly, then motioned for a nearby bartender to approach. "Anyway, what kept you two so long?" Kara asked, turning toward Uncle Florence in an attempt to change the subject. "I've been waiting here for over an hour!"
"That escort of yours—Mrs. Timmons—took off," Uncle Florence replied, sitting across from Kara with a grunt and leaning back into his seat. Pulling a silver cigarette case from his left pocket, he lit one up and began to casually breath in the smoke, his eyes intense. "We looked all over for her—in the nearby woods, the town, every inn within a few miles—but she's gone for good and she took all of your supplies with her."
"Don't we need those supplies?" Kara asked, looking up at Ben anxiously. But as soon as she recognized the tension in her voice, Kara made a conscious effort to relax and clear her mind of evil thoughts. It would do no good to adopt the mindset of a hunted animal, now that Kara was safely behind Nardia's walls. "I just don't understand why Mrs. Timmons would fly the coop, especially in her injured state," Kara explained, forcing her voice to remain level. "Why would she leave so suddenly, without telling anyone?"
"Honestly, we don't know," Ben replied with a shrug, before sitting beside Kara and wrapping an arm around her waist. His very presence was reassuring and Kara instantly leaned into him, unable to help herself. It was a subconscious impulse, but even when Kara realized this, she couldn't pull away. The confidence Ben projected—the security his gesture promised—seemed to ease Kara's fears and she liked feeling safe for once. "It's really the lack of reasoning that bothers me most," Ben continued, absentmindedly running his hand down Kara's side and stroking her hips with his fingers. Kara could feel the soft fabric of her dress as it pressed into her skin, soft and sensual. "Mrs. Timmons wouldn't have fled with a broken arm and bruised ribs unless she were afraid of something," Ben mused aloud, staring off into the fireplace across the room. "Then, of course, we have no idea what happened to Avery. From the beginning, I've felt that there was something off about those two and maybe I should have been more adamant about it. They've been hiding something from us. When you've commanded as many men as I have, you learn to read faces pretty well..."
Suddenly, Kara stiffened against Ben's ministrations and pulled away, hissing in pain. It wasn't difficult to take the hint and he immediately withdrew his arm, allowing Kara to have some space. "I'm fine," she insisted, for Ben's eyes were rife with concern and his lips had formed a thin, firm line. "I promise, I'm okay. You just accidentally brushed up against my bandaged wound and it's still a bit sore. But trust me, I've had much worse."
Something in Ben's eyes changed then, suddenly enough to make the transformation frightening. While Ben's eyes had once been concerned, now they began to darken and become sinister, until there was only anger left. "Worse?" Ben hissed, and he pulled Kara onto his lap, holding her tight. "You mean by Arlington's doing, don't you? I swear to god, when I get my hands on that abusive, twisted lunatic, I am going to break both of his legs! And then, when that's all done, I'm going to punch out all of his teeth!"
"Now, hold on just a goddamned second," Querren laughed, ordering a round of beers for them as the bartender—a strapping lad in a white dress shirt and black vest—finally approached. The man's tone was jovial, but Kara knew that he was just as angry as Ben. She could see it in his deep brown eyes, dangerous and dark. It was a look Kara thought she had forgotten, but she recognized it now. "Family members get first dibs, Karrington. You ought to know better," Querren continued, stamping out his cigarette. There was so much violence in the gesture that it shook the entire floor, leaving nothing but a black stain on the hardwood. "You can have Arlington's legs if you want, but I get his teeth. Fingers and toes, too. You'd be surprised how much you can accomplish, using just a man's fingers and toes."
With an affectionate smile, Querren winked playfully in Kara's direction and she smiled back, although the conversation was a littler more disconcerting than it was comforting. As much as she enjoyed fantasizing about torturing Arlington, Kara often wondered if she had the guts to go through with it herself. Uncle Florence, on the other hand, had no such qualms. Oddly enough, the man somehow manged to embody both danger and kindliness. The way his muscular form glowed in the light of the large tavern fire and its many chandeliers made him look a bit like a hyena, especially when his eyes were so dark. But when he smiled warmly—given his white beard and nearly bald head—he reminded Kara of Saint Nicholas, albeit one who blew things up 364 days out of the year, when he wasn't delivering parcels to good little boys and girls.
"What the fuck is this shit?" Alyssa suddenly cried, and Kara very nearly jumped. Swinging around in her seat, she saw that somehow, both Alyssa and Greenwood had managed to sneak up on her and were hiding in the shadows behind their table. Alyssa was an especially frightening sight to behold, her eyes wild with mischief and a cigarette dangling from the corner of her mouth. She had a bloody bandage wrapped around her left hand—from bracing herself against a nasty fall—and was still wearing the same blood stained tank top and pants from earlier, making her disheveled appearance even more disconcerting. "Y'all need to quit whining; we're in a bar, for fuck's sake!"
"Alyssa!" Querren cried, a wicked grin disturbing his face. Pushing away from the table, he quickly stood to his feet and embraced the weapons specialist, finishing the gesture off with a firm handshake and a pat on the back. "Have a seat! Have a seat!" Querren insisted, gesturing at their table. "We'll get a game of cards going, just like old times, eh? I'll even buy you a beer. Whataya say?"
"What's a night on the town without gambling?" Alyssa laughed, taking a seat beside Querren. Kara had never seen the weapons specialist so laid back before and all be damned if she didn't look happy for once. Cries of excitement radiated around the bar as Alyssa requisitioned players for the upcoming game, while Querren shuffled a deck of cards hidden in his own satchel. "We doing cash or a tourney?" Alyssa asked, scanning the table of faces and calling over a bartender to take the table's order. "Oh, and Greenwood? You owe me a fucking beer and a burger, remember?"
"As you recall, I didn't exactly agree to that bet," Greenwood pointed out, shifting uncomfortably from one foot to the other. Unlike Alyssa, he didn't seem at all at ease amongst the noise, laughter, and dancing. Certainly, the fancy dinner parties and charity balls of Isleydor's upper class were nothing like this. Looking around as if bewildered, the double merely cradled his injured arm, now fitted with a healing enhancement cast, guaranteed to speed up the process of recuperation. It was a thick, metallic thing with glowing lights along the side and a progress read out, given to him when they'd visited the local hospital (i.e. the large, ex-boarding house where a few local physicians lived). It seemed as if Nardia had become more technologically advanced since Kara's last visit, but only when it came to absolute necessities, like medicine and agriculture. Go figure, no one in the village owned a car, but everyone and his mother seemed to have a tractor. "Anyway, I don't like putting a price on a man's life, least of all the cost of a beer and a burger," Greenwood continued, finally sitting down and resting his arm on the table. "But I'll buy you a little something as a sort of, I don't know, date?"
Alyssa rolled her eyes, then winked meaningfully at Querren. "You know, this guy wasn't always so soft," Alyssa laughed, wrapping an arm around Greenwood's shoulders and pulling him in for a playful hug. "I think he's over compensating now, but trust me sweetheart, god doesn't give a fuck about some Bremmington pieces of shit."
"Hey, Greenwood!" Querren barked, laying his coins out on the table and cutting the stack of cards in his hand. And as if he'd been bitten, Greenwood immediately whipped around toward the noise. "You want in on this game or not? You should have a small allowance from Tamius."
"Oh, I don't know how to play," Greenwood replied, and though he tried to shrug nonchalantly, Kara could tell he was embarrassed to admit it. "After all, my job was to entertain and befriend Arlington, and the man rarely gambles. He far prefers games of skill to those reliant upon luck."
"If you think poker is a game of luck, then you're doing it wrong," Querren grunted, dealing the cards before him in a clockwise fashion, until he finally reached Greenwood. "Are you in, or not?"
"He's in!" Alyssa answered, nudging Greenwood playfully. His lips tight, the double glared down at his lover, but that only seemed to brighten Alyssa's spirits. "You'll like it," she laughed, gulping down her beer generously. "It's all psychological. You use your bets and mannerisms to trick your opponents into folding or raising, depending on your hand." Scanning over her own cards, Alyssa called the current bet and instructed Greenwood to do the same, allowing Querren to burn a card and turn over the flop. "Besides, I bet your poker face beats any of these bitches bluffs."
"I raise," Querren grunted, and there was a loud groan as most of the players at the table folded, made melodramatic by the alcohol thrumming in their veins and the adrenaline rush of a good card game. "Twenty and five."
"You know what, I am feeling rather good about this," Greenwood mused, looking over his own cards and then smiling at Alyssa. When it was his turn to act, he carefully pushed a hand full of coins into the pot and looked smugly over at Querren. "Yes, I think I'll...what do you say? Call?"
"It's not a feeling you should be acting on, Greenwood," Querren laughed, turning over the next card on the board. Lighting up a second cigarette, he blew smoke into the already hazy air and grinned down on the pool of cash before him, as if it were already his. "I told you, this isn't a game of luck. It's a game of strategy. Still, I don't mind taking your money. I'll raise again, same amount."
"And I'll call," Greenwood replied, without a moment's hesitation. "One of my cards match, so..."
"Greenwood, shut up and hide your cards for fuck's sake," Alyssa groaned, resting her face in the palm of her hand and drowning her embarrassment in her beer. "And Querren, go easy on him for a few hands, alright?"
"Alright, alright!" Querren laughed, holding up his hands as if in surrender. "I'll check the river." Then, with an excited flourish, he turned over the last card and displayed his own hand for the table to see. "I have a straight, which means I have five sequential numbers between by cards and those on the table. It's a pretty good hand," Querren smiled, leaning back in his seat and crossing his arms over his chest triumphantly. "What about you?"
"I do believe you have me," Greenwood sighed, eyeing his hand and the board in a slightly distressed manner. With a irritated air, he quickly displayed his hand and shook his head. "I've only got a pair of tens."
"Actually, he's got the flush," Alyssa grinned, pulling in the mass of coins toward Greenwood and patting him heartily on the back. Eyes wide, Querren bolted upright and looked carefully over Greenwood's cards, as if they were flickering in and out of focus. When the reality finally sank in, Querren cursed angrily, running his hands through his hair in exasperation. "And no fair saying it's beginners luck, especially after that little spiel on poker strategy," Alyssa warned, her voice chiding.
"It's beginners luck!" Querren screamed. "I say it's beginner's luck!"
"Did I win?" Greenwood asked, his voice confused and child like. "I don't understand?"
"Sweetheart, you have the flush," Alyssa explained, although she was rather engrossed in counting Greenwood's money and putting it in his purse, the grin on her face widening still further. "With the cards in your hand plus those three on the board, you have five hearts."
"Wait, you can match shapes and numbers?!?" Greenwood cried, and Querren very nearly punched the wall. "Why didn't anyone explain that before we started. I would have...how do you say it? Raised him?"
"Someone please shoot me!" Querren cursed, finally plopping back down in his seat as the next dealer began distributing cards. "He didn't even know he had the flush!"
"Doesn't matter, since he showed," Alyssa replied evenly, looking over her own cards and snorting in disappointment before folding them both. "Greenwood, it's your turn."
"How good is it if you get two of the little A's?" Greenwood asked, shouting over at Alyssa in order to be heard above the noise of the bar. "Is this something I should raise or just call?" With a loud groan, the rest of the players quickly tossed their cards into the center of the table, not even bothering to wait until Greenwood had made a decision. "Wait," Greenwood mused, quickly scanning the table and then his cards. "Am I the only one left? Did I win?"
"Collect your blinds, Greenwood," Alyssa told him, watching in amusement as Querren's face turned red. "Everyone folded, so you get what's on the table."
"I win again?!?" Greenwood cried, his face ecstatic as a young boy's. Eagerly, he raked in his winnings, not the least bit bothered that he'd thrown away an excellent hand after only a single round of betting. "I think I'm getting good at this game!
"Keep lining his pockets, Querren," Alyssa teased, motioning for the bartender to bring her another drink. "He's gonna be buying me drinks with your money all night and I'm a pretty high maintenance bitch."
"Rub it in my face, why don't you?" Querren spat, hesitantly looking over his next hand and then back at Greenwood, as if the man might suddenly jump up and bite him. "He isn't even playing right!"
"I don't know, his stack says otherwise," Kara laughed, and Querren looked over at her in absolute shock, his jaw nearly touching the floor. "I mean, so far he's doing pretty good."
"My own flesh and blood!" Querren cried, putting his hand to his chest in mock hurt. "After all I've done for you!"
"Come on, let's leave these guys to their squabbles," Ben smiled, standing to his feet and holding out his hand in order to help Kara up. When she looked at him in confusion, he only laughed and took her hand in his own by force, pulling her to her feet. "Come on, let's go and dance," Ben insisted, the mischievous glow returning to his eyes. "You said you wanted to dance with strangers all night and just yesterday, you were telling me that I know nothing about you. Come, now," Ben chided, leaning into Kara's long hair and pressing his lips against her ear, in order to be heard above all the noise. "Let me be your stranger."
Kara didn't have time to reply before she was being pulled through the crowded bar and onto the dance floor, situated in front of the band and completely cleared of tables. When Ben suddenly stopped, she stumbled into him and he took full advantage of that fact, taking her right hand in his left and easing his dominant arm around her waist to create a perfect closed position. And with that, they were off, soaring across the dance floor at a smooth, rapid pace. Kara hadn't expected a former general to be any good at dancing, but she supposed that part of being a military man entailed entertaining diplomats and ambassadors from foreign nations. Ben certainly seemed to know what he was doing and Kara could barely keep up with him as their feet flew across the wooden floor. Soon, Kara found herself being spun outward and then back into her partner's arms, then dipped toward the floor. As she lay in Ben's arms, mere inches from the ground, their eyes met and Kara couldn't help but grin.