Lions of Parnatha Ch. 03byMedievna©
It took a few days, but I did slowly recover from my encounter with vice and debauchery. I didn't ask my hostess about our encounter, and she didn't bring it up, so I decided the topic would likely lie buried. I was grateful for this, for I had not the faintest idea how I would explain myself to Gaius. We remained at Alethea's villa for another week before departing and heading home. Before we left, our hostess gifted me with a finely wrought medallion depicting the twin gods Uros and Heter, deities of protection and strength.
"For good luck," she had said, kissing my cheek.
Home was, thankfully, clear of investigators when I arrived. The extra presence of guards from the royal garrison was noticeable, but they kept clear of the main buildings and made little noise. Gaius was often gone during the day, busy with official business and royal duties, which left me rather alone much of the time. Boredom quickly set in, and I found myself gazing in frequent longing at the gates and the city beyond.
I finally decided I'd had enough sitting around like a good doting wife and took it upon myself to explore the city, and so one afternoon I dressed myself in a plain robe and informed the guard captain, Palos, that I was going out.
"But, my lady, you cannot," he stammered uncomfortably.
"Oh?" I asked, crossing my arms. "And why not?"
"Lieutenant general Artigro has ordered that you are not to leave the estate grounds--"
I felt my blood boil at this. How dare that man try and keep me locked up in this damn house! Who did he think he was? Husband or not, I was not servant or slave to his will, and I refused to be treated as such. Snorting, I glared at poor Palos and interrupted him. "Look," I growled, "I'm going to go out into that city before I go mad from boredom, and I will leave either through the front gate or I will climb over the walls. Either way, I will not be kept captive in this oppressive house. Now, Captain, which would you prefer: gate or walls?"
In the end, I compromised and allowed two of the house guards to accompany me into the city. Palos insisted that he would be in copious amounts of trouble for allowing me out, to which I responded that, if it would ease his mind, he could tell Gaius that I held a dagger to his throat. Oddly enough he didn't seem amused by my suggestion.
Arthos was bustling in the bright heat of the early afternoon sun. Summer was settling over the Empire, and the heat of the day was oppressive, causing most of its denizens to flit from shade to shade. I wove through the throngs in the streets as I made my way toward the market district, enjoying the myriad sights and sounds and smells of the city.
The market district cut a large swath through the city, extending from the northern neighborhoods down toward the southern gates, and it was filled with everything one could possibly imagine. Fruit vendors vied with bakers for customers. Jewelers and tailors hawked their wares to the passing crowds, and potters and tanners worked diligently in their shops, ignoring most of the din. In this gathering of humanity I was completely anonymous, and I enjoyed the freedom that resulted.
Stopping to admire finely woven cloth at a merchant's stall, I suddenly noticed that my two guards were nowhere to be seen. As clandestinely as I could I surveyed the crowd around me, but to no avail; I was alone. I suddenly felt extremely exposed and vulnerable, and I didn't really know where I was; none of the surrounding buildings were familiar. Panic began to rise in my throat, and I made an attempt at backtracking through the market. As I hurried through the street, dark, fleeting shapes began to make themselves visible in my peripheral vision, disappearing from view whenever I tried to catch sight of them directly. Sweat beaded on my forehead, and panic turned to fear. I felt I was being hunted.
Turning down a narrow corridor between two tall buildings, I pressed my back against the wall in an attempt to hide from whoever, or whatever, was following me. My attention was so absorbed by the passing crowds that I didn't notice the presence of others until it was too late. Someone clapped a hand over my mouth and grabbed my arms, dragging me kicking and bucking further into the dingy corridor.
Gaius Remulus Artigro sighed dejectedly, running his hands through his hair in irritation. It was well after sunset, and there was still no sign of his wife, even with half the garrison spread throughout the city. Thus far no one had found so much as a small indication of my possible whereabouts, and the search was beginning to take on a desperate note. Every time a patrol returned Gaius' heart would leap hopefully, only to fall as heads shook and the guards indicated that there was still nothing to report.
Behind him he could hear Captain Palos speaking with the most recently returned search party, and from their tone they had found nothing new. For his part, the poor captain had accepted full responsibility for my disappearance, though his cautious stance indicated he wasn't looking forward to whatever punishment lay in store for him once the situation was resolved. Though Gaius was certainly angry enough with the man, he was now more concerned with finding me alive and well than punishing his guard captain.
"Still nothing?" Aurus asked as he slumped into a chair in his friend's makeshift command center. Gaius had tasked the big blond man with loosening tongues in the seedier parts of Arthos, and from the looks of the fresh bruises and a thin cut over his eyebrow, he'd been doing just that.
Gaius shook his head, rubbing the bridge of his nose. "Yes, brother, still nothing. No one saw a thing." Sitting as well, he leaned back in his chair wearily. "It's as though she disappeared completely."
Aurus grunted; he didn't have anything useful to add, and instead picked up a bottle of port and uncorked it, drinking deeply. "Think she's still alive?" he asked grimly after a moment.
"Of course she is," Gaius said firmly, a statement that earned another grunt from Aurus. "Lithana isn't weak, and she's trained in at least some fighting styles." The affirmation was left hanging in the heavy night air, and Gaius refused to expand on possibilities. Keeping faith in my ability to defend myself, physically or otherwise, was paramount to him. He would not visit alternative outcomes.
Standing suddenly, Gaius strapped his sword and belt around his waist and cinched his cloak to his shoulders. "I'm going back out," he said shortly.
Aurus nodded and stood as well. "Might as well go along," he said with a weary grin. "Gods know you can't fight for shit."
I awoke to the feeling of rope rubbing against my wrists. Attempting to shift, I realized that my hands were bound behind my back. My eyes flew open to survey my surroundings: I was in a mostly dark room with a straw-covered floor, a guttering torch in a far corner the only source of light. I could hear the sounds of people somewhere outside the room, but there were no windows in my line of vision. Painfully, I tried to push myself up on my elbows.
"It's best to lie still," a soft voice said from nearby, and I craned my neck to see who was speaking.
It was a woman, not much older than myself. She was similarly bound, and dressed in the simple shift of a commoner. Her red hair lay about her shoulders, and her thin face was dirty, one eye swollen and bruised. She looked as though she had been through quite an ordeal.
Ignoring her advice, I managed to rock myself up into a sitting position. "Where am I?"
"Keep your voice down," she shushed, looking worriedly at what I could now see was a decrepit wooden door. "If they know you're awake you'll be in for it."
"In for what? What the hell's going on?" I was terrified, but fear couldn't keep the creeping rage out of my mind.
"They captured you and brought you here," the red-haired woman explained quietly. "They're... the men who took you, us, they deal in slaves."
I blinked in confusion. "But I'm not a slave." I wasn't. I was nobly born, not some chattel from the streets born into servitude.
The woman shrugged. "You are as long as someone else says you are." There was a loud crash and raucous laughter from beyond the door, and she cringed.
"Who are you? Did they take you as well?"
"My name is Vienes," she said in a strained voice. "I'm from the colonies, near the mountains. I've been here, with them, for a while."
"The colonies..." I was completely floored. Vienes was abducted, just the same as I was, and from the sight of her, clearly no one had tried to find her. "But... I still don't understand. Why did they take us? Surely it's easier to find slaves for labor in the small villages and outskirts of town. Slavers don't just go and abduct nobility."
"We aren't that kind of slave," Vienes whispered.
"What other kind of slave is there?"
Sighing, Vienes shook her head. "They're going to sell us for sex, miss. Men will pay to bed us as many times as they wish, and they will sell us again and again." It was such a simple, straightforward answer that I felt my jaw drop in shock. "They take us themselves, if they wish," she added almost offhandedly.
I was truly terrified now as I stared in shock at the red-haired woman. From the look of her, everything she'd said was true, and she didn't have the will to fight it anymore. Seeming to read my mind, she offered a small smile. "It's easier to bear if you just let them have what they want and don't fight it. They like to punish you if you resist."
My heart was pounding and my head swam as I looked desperately around the room. There was nothing there, nothing save for the torch and the door. My binding was tight and cut into my skin if I struggled too much. How could I escape from this? How could I fight?
My answer was not long in coming, for the wooden door flew open with gusto and two dirty looking men strode into the room. Vienes jumped in fright and immediately lowered her eyes to the floor, seeming to shrink back against the wall. The paid her little mind, instead focusing on me, and they advanced like hungry dogs stalking prey.
"So, the new one's awake, eh?"
"Pretty li'l thing, she'll get a good price."
"Eh, dunno," one shrugged, examining me as I glared at him. "She's kinda scrawny, her tits is too small."
The other laughed and squatted down in front of me, leering. "Don't matter what her tits look like long as her cunt's tight," he grinned.
Unable to help myself, I launched into a tirade. "Who the fuck do you think you are, you disgusting piece of filth? Do you have any idea who I am? When I get out of here I'm going to remove your balls, if you have any, and tie them around your necks after stringing you up so all of Parnatha will see what pathetic, impotent, filthy ruffians you are!"
I was rewarded with a hard smack across the face, which sent me flying sideways to the ground. My head reeled and my vision swam as the skin around my cheek and eye began to burn hotly.
"This little one's got a temper. She's gonna need some training." Grabbing me by my arm, the one who had hit me hauled me up to face him. Despite my aching face and the tears welling in my eyes, I stared him down defiantly. He sneered and hit me again, this time on the other side of my face.
"Don't muss her up too much, she won't sell if her face is all busted."
I was dropped, unceremoniously, to the ground, where I lay still, trying to recollect my thoughts and stop the room from spinning. The two men then turned toward Vienes, who whimpered slightly.
"This one knows her place," one of the men grinned, and he grabbed her by the hair and hauled her out the door. "C'mon, bitch, our little party needs some entertainment." The door slammed shut behind them, and I was left alone in the meager light of the room with nothing but my aching face and Vienes' muffled cries in the room beyond. Tears coming to my eyes, I rolled onto my back and suddenly gasped as my fingers brushed against something. It was hard and had several sharp edges, likely a piece of rubble or a small rock. Resolve settling into my stomach, I managed to position it in such a way that I could rub it against the ropes that bound my hands. It was slow going, sawing through the fibers, but then again, every laugh of my captors and the cries from the poor girl in their midst was all the motivation I needed.
I squinted as light from the doorway flooded into the room, realizing that I had fallen asleep at some point. I watched warily as a man entered with a battered and exhausted Vienes, one hand gripped tightly around her arm. He pushed her to the ground with little care, ignoring her whimpers, and stood over her momentarily, his face indecisive. I watched thoughts swirl through his thick head, my hands testing the ropes that bound them; I had been working most of the night and was nearly through them. The rock still in my fingers, I quietly resumed my work.
The man finally stooped down over Vienes, his face taking on a cruel visage. "They took all their turns and I didn't get to have no fun," he murmured as he pressed her into the ground, one leg between her thighs. His hands ran roughly over her body, squeezing her breasts painfully and lifting the edge of her shift around her waist. Vienes shut her eyes tight and turned her face from him, and the man grinned wickedly. Ripping open the front of her shift, his mouth descended on her nipples while his fingers thrust up inside her, causing her to arch her back in pain. I felt my jaw tighten as I watched him, and I saw from the bulge under his kilt that he was very close to raping her in front of me. Narrowing my eyes, I decided that I wouldn't let that happen.
The man was busy thrusting his fat fingers in and out of his victim, his other hand stroking his hard cock when suddenly a length of rope looped around his neck. He gagged and bucked backward, his hands flying to the rope in a desperate attempt to dislodge it. I nearly lost my balance, but managed to keep my footing as I pulled back and up with all my strength on the rope. He thrashed violently for what seemed forever before collapsing on the ground, dead. I stood over him, my chest heaving from the exertion, and looked at a terrified Vienes.
"You-you killed him!" she exclaimed softly, her eyes wide with horrified wonder.
"And I'll kill whoever else gets in our way," I stated as I grabbed a crude looking short sword and dagger from the dead man at my feet. "We're getting out of here."
Helping the woman up, we crept to the door and listened intently. It was very quiet, and I surmised that no one had heard the struggle. Opening it just enough to peek through, I saw that the small room beyond was mostly deserted, save for two brigands who were slumped over, fast asleep on a low table. Motioning for Vienes to follow me, I stepped gingerly into the room, my sword at the ready.
Tense moments crept by as we tip-toed through the room toward a darkened hallway beyond, and we were filled with relief as we slipped into the welcome shadows and slid along one of the walls. I thought that, impossibly, we might be in luck and not be discovered for a long while, but luck was clearly not on our side that evening. As we crept further into the darkness, there was an angry cry behind us, echoed by more cries and the sound of rushing feet.
"Run!" I yelled to Vienes, and I sprinted down the hallway. Being as it was extremely dark, I wasn't sure where I was going, and I almost barreled face first into a wall. My companion tripped over me and fell as I skidded to a halt, and I grimaced as the hallway was suddenly flooded with torchlight. Spinning quickly and readying my sword, I met the first slaver who entered our bend.
He was thoroughly unprepared for my assault, and unable to ready a response as I feinted and lunged. My blade sank into his stomach, and he dropped to the floor in a screaming heap. Unfortunately it meant that I no longer possessed the element of surprise, and the next two to round the corner were prepared for me, their weapons already drawn. I swallowed as they advanced on me, unsure I would be able to take the both of them, but I was given little choice.
Steel rang on steel as I parried desperately, trying to gain an equal footing. They were larger and much stronger than I was, but I was by far the fastest in this fight, and I used that to my advantage, dancing around their slashing blades with ease. They were hardly what one could call trained, their swings wild and uncontrolled. That lack of control, however, could be dangerous and unpredictable, and I was reminded of this as I whirled to avoid a thrust that suddenly caught me on the edge of my arm. Crying out in pain, I ducked and shifted my weight, trying to collect myself.
Our deadly dance continued, and I don't know how long it lasted. My arm began to ache, and I didn't know how much longer I would be able to defend us against them. I faintly heard the sounds of fighting elsewhere, but I was too absorbed to pay it much mind. As I wove between my opponents a chance opening appeared, and I drove my blade into one of the slaver's kidneys. He screamed in pain and fell writhing to the floor, taking my sword with him, and I panicked as I tried to tug it free. I felt a sharp sting on the small of my back and a blow to my knee, and fell to my hands on the floor. Looking quickly behind me, I saw the other slaver raise his sword to deliver a fatal blow before roaring in anger and pain, his sword clattering to the floor. Behind him, Vienes had grabbed my fallen dagger and driven it into the man's thigh up to the hilt. She wrenched it free, and a pulsing spurt of blood covered the floor.
Smiling slightly, I pulled my sword from the dead slaver and crawled over to her, panting in exhaustion. I was about to comment on her luck when more running feet met my ears, and I scrambled to my feet and raised my blade in time to block the blow of a man who rounded the hallway's corner. I prepared myself for another battle, gritting my teeth, when recognition struck me in the stomach.
My husband stood before me, his own blade flush against mine and his face a mask of deadly rage. His eyes flashed with blood lust, and it took him a moment to realize what was happening.
I nodded fervently, trembling. Behind Gaius, Aurus and Captain Palos appeared with a detachment of the garrison, all of them looking thoroughly worn from battle. Aurus mumbled something about clearing the rooms ahead and led the detachment around us and down the hallway. Nodding in bemused appreciation, I dropped my sword as Gaius sheathed his sword and approached me.
His expression was one of astonishment and relief, and he took my face gingerly in his hands. "Are you alright? Are you hurt?"
I shook my head, feeling tears well in my eyes. "I'm fine, nothing that won't heal." I took a moment to savor his touch and calm myself; adrenaline was leaving my body, and I could feel emotion threatening to overwhelm me. "How did you find me?" I asked softly.
"Luck," Gaius responded simply. "I was patrolling the market near the Grand Row and overheard some men discussing brothels they had been to recently. There had been cases of kidnappings connected to slavers who sell to brothels, so on a hunch I ordered raids of known hideouts and whore houses." Smiling slightly, Gaius shook his head. "I honestly didn't expect to find you in one."
I managed to smile, and kissed him lightly. "I'm grateful for it."
Aurus and Captain Palos returned to inform us that the building, which was little more than a series of small shacks connected by wooden corridors, was clear of any remaining slavers. They hadn't found anyone else, and pointed curiously at Vienes, who was still trembling on the floor. I informed them that she was a victim, the same as I, and that she was under my protection. Gaius agreed with me, more out of relief from my recovery than anything else, and with my arm set protectively around the woman, we were escorted to freedom.