Aran ducked beneath the stone archway, his calloused fingers stroking the pummel of his sword. The slave trader had lured him with the promise of a rare jewel of unimaginable worth. Aran was both cynical and curious. Whatever 'jewel' the trader sought to sell in a country pillaged and torn by war with his own, Aran doubted he was the first to have his purse burdened by its rareness.
The chamber was lit by a flickering sconce on the far dank stone wall, the poor light only serving to draw him closer. A gilded cage hung suspended from the domed roof, its length, breadth and height little more than his arm span. But its exotic appeal in such plain surrounds could not distract from the glimpse of the magnificent creature bound within its intricate confines.
The expanse of creamy, luminescent skin and soft, shadowed valleys and hollows teased him. She lay on her side, arms raised and crossed over her chest, their delicate wrists framed in leather cuffs tied together. Her legs, incredibly long and lean for what must be a tiny stature, were drawn up. Her crossed ankles were tucked against the underside of her bottom.
A sweep of dark lashes rested against her cheeks, but he knew her not to be sleeping, the music of her racing heart betraying her.
Delicate, tiny and coppery haired, her soft skin unmarred by the harshness of war. His hands itched at his sides to explore her, to discover every curve and hollow with his hands and mouth.
It had been several moons since he had luxuriated in a woman's arms. His beddings in recent times had been born out of fulfilling a need, while his energies and concentration had been fixed on the strategies and complexities of war. No doubt this tempting handful could prove an unwanted distraction.
He stepped closer out of curiosity, and stilled. The subtle blend of jasmine and her own uniqueness reached out to him, seeping into his flesh. Adrenalin rushed through him, her sweet scent inciting his blood. He felt the change draw forth, and pushed it back with a strength of will that almost brought him to his knees. Too late he realised her unusual colouring was both exquisite and deceptive. She was Shaylan.
His body urged him to take what this creature offered him: freedom.
He dragged his eyes from the gilded cage to the thin man at his side. The trader was entitled to his smugness. Aran would be a fool to pretend he wasn't interested. There was only one outcome. The question was how much it would hurt Aran's purse.
Shaylan were a rare discovery, remaining hidden from fear of becoming slave to one of his kind. He had not crossed paths with a Shaylan in over a decade.
They did well to fear. He and his brethren drew their energy from the blood of others. The life force of human blood was more potent than other animals, and the blood of innocents even more so. Shaylans blood was prized above all others, being the most intoxicating and potent, heavy with the old magic.
"She is weak still from her first death." The interruption was unwelcome. Aran glared at the man. The slave trader fiddled with the keys at his belt, gaze dropping.
It went against the grain to kill a creature other than in honourable battle, but the knowledge warred with his Aridiane heart. Shaylan's and Aridiane's were the two races of true immortals. Aridiane's, however, grew into their immortality, becoming so when their bodies matured, often between the ages of twenty-five and thirty-five. Shaylans came into their own immortality upon their mortal death, whatever age they may be. It was rumoured some Shaylan's bought about their own first death at the age they desired, not leaving it to fate to live for eternity in a frail, aged body.
"By your hand?"
"It was necessary to protect her value. She is young, and pure."
Aran briefly closed his eyes, breathing deep. He could scent no other male on her, but that meant little other than she had not lain with a man in the last several moons. The blood sung within him at the possibility of a female virgin. Shaylans forever remained as they were upon entering their immortality. A Shaylan that reached their first death a virgin, could sustain a warrior such as him without the need or leaving himself vulnerable to finding someone to slake his thirst before and after battles, making their owner all but an invincible warrior.
If she did indeed prove to be a virgin, her value was untold. Aran would be forced to bind her to him in the old ways for her own protection.
He strode around the cage, coming to a halt facing the trader and the entry. Reaching through the widely spaced bars, he drew her long, silky hair back from her partially hidden face. Tears glistened on her cheeks, and he gently rubbed the moisture over fragile skin with his thumb. He could not, would not, feel pity for her loss of mortality so young. He only hoped for her sake the trader had been gentle in his method.
The lashes flickered, tickling his finger. They slowly opened, revealing luminous dove gray eyes. Aran was caught, mesmerised. They widened at the sight of him. A soft moan escaped her, and her lips trembled before firming. Her lashes squeezed shut in silent protection, her face tucking itself against her hands.
He knew what put the fear in her eyes. He was Aridiane by nature, massive and golden, with broad shoulders and muscled chest that could not be disguised by the dark blue leather vest and breeches. But she would learn to accept him. In every way.
Silently he traced fingers down her cheek, over the side of her neck, and along her collar bone. He felt her shudder. He ached to taste her, to sink his teeth and cock into her soft, beckoning flesh. She would learn to enjoy the taking.
Forcing his hand to return to his side, his eyes pinned the trader with an intensity that made the smaller man falter.
"How much?" he demanded, beyond the point of finesse. They both knew he would and could pay the asking price.
"A favour," the beady man said, shifting on his feet. When Aran remained silent, merely lifting a brow, the man rushed on. "To owe me a favour."
The silence stretched, while Aran considered the demand. It was a hefty reward, an untold price to be paid some time in the future. Heftier, for Aran did not like owing favours.
The Warlord was a powerful man in his country, second only to his brother, the High King. Aran could raise armies to defeat nations and topple dynasties. To be owed a favour by Aran was to hold the power of the army he held in his brother's name.
Aran could easily take his prize by force, burning this slave trader's hole to the ground, and Aridiane law would not punish him. But his honour would not allow it. Something the slave trader bargained on, no doubt, when sending a message to Aran. He knew without question he was the first to view the copper haired Shaylan, for no other Aridiane would relinquish such a prize.
"The terms are you may only call upon me and me alone to render the favour, and the asking will not cause harm or dishonor to an innocent."
"Accepted," the man agreed hastily. He withdrew a small gold key on a silken rope cord.
Aran took it from the trembling hand, and in its place left a small golden ring with the mark of the House of Arid.
"Get out." He told the slaver. "I am not to be interrupted." The man rushed to do Aran's bidding, backing hastily out of the chamber bowing before turning, his footsteps on the stone steps fading with gladdening haste.
Wanting to know more of his prize, he walked around the cage to stand near her feet. She struggled to put distance between them, ending up sitting with her back pressed against the bars of her cage, her knees bent. Her arms were crossed over her breasts in a vee, pushing her breasts together even as she sought to cover them. His gaze moved down over the flat stomach to spy the thatch of copper curls at its base for the first time. His interest sharpened, for he discovered the glorious colour of her mane was true, and not a traders ploy. His fingers ached to draw her thighs wide apart and explore her secret treasures. As he watched, one knee slid protectively over the other, hiding her bounty. A well trained love slave could not have done better to capture his interest.
He reached between the bars, his hand gliding along the underside of her calf to cup beneath her bent knee, drawing it high and wide. The muscles of her legs strained as she silently fought him. He admired her foolish courage. She would learn soon enough.
"Do not force me tie your legs apart," he warned her softly. She stilled beneath his hand. Whether it was from his tone or understanding of the common tongue, he was pleased by her obedience.
He pressed his mouth to the side of the captured ankle he held high. He breathed in sunlight and jasmine. She was fresh and sweet, a far cry from the heavy musky oils favoured by traders. His calloused fingers brushed down her inner thigh, exploring the tantalizing softness. Not used to the rough linen of a serf, he guessed. The tips of his golden hair teased her tender flesh as his teeth nipped teasingly at her ankle. She squirmed, a choked whimper escaping her.
He licked at the tiny trace of blood his teeth had wrought, his tongue swirling over her tender flesh. She tasted of what must be ambrosia. Fiery heat burned all the way to his cock. His body craved hers with an intensity that was overpowering. Never had anything tasted so good. He wanted more, all of her, the feel of her convulsing tightly about his cock as his drunk deeply of her life's blood.
His free hand stroked slowly up and down her inner thigh, brushing the wispy copper curls with his fingers. The women of his country were traditionally shorn, and he found himself intrigued by the sparse triangle and how it would feel sheltering him. He felt her shudder, yet she did not close herself against him as he tugged gently on the copper tufts. Did she sense that he would enjoy binding her velvety skin with soft cords?
She remained silent, her face turned and hidden from him by the silken fall of her hair. Not letting the slight go, Aran lightly stroked the soft folds, running his finger between them until he discovered her tiny gate. She was dry, so he wet his finger in his mouth before pressing against her body's natural resistance.
She stiffened as his finger pressed into her. He could have groaned at the clench of her silken hot flesh taking him. She was incredibly small and tight. His breath eased from his lungs when he breached the barrier of her maidenhead. He felt her flinch, but there was little for it. He knew of slaver's tricks. If she was indeed pure, her maidenhead will return soon enough. If not, it mattered little. A Shaylan, pure or not, was a prize to his own kind. If she were indeed pure and the rumours true, and for her sake he hoped they were, the barrier would thin over time, the pain becoming almost imperceptible.
He licked his finger with immense pleasure. Grey eyes peeked at him for the first time, shocked and angry. He smiled, liking how she passively fought him. Her face paled then coloured a soft pink before she looked away. He had a mind to tie her legs apart anyway.
She seemed defenseless and vulnerable, with glimpses of an underlying stubbornness. How had a rare treasure like her had remained without an owner for so long, he wondered. Aran questioned too, whether her shy reluctance was real or artifice.
"How many years?" Aran asked her. He found the pearl of her pleasure. Her body jolted, unable to hide its response. He would enjoy teaching her to please him.
"How many?" he queried with deceptive gentleness. His other hand drew her knee wide.
"Eighteen." Her voice, husky and lilting, bespoke of an accent he was unfamiliar with. Perhaps the southern countries.
He teased her with light touches and gentle fingers. Her body was tense, resistant, his guide the tiny shivers racking her tiny frame from time to time. Her woman's wetness, though very slow in coming, gathered encouragingly. He breathed in the sweet scent of her arousal as he teased her. He was pleased to see her knee swinging slightly from side to side, a lapse in her rigid resistance.
She shuddered, eyes closed, her breathing uneasy, a different tenseness filling her sweet body. He would not allow her to escape to her pleasure while refusing to acknowledge him. He withdrew his fingers from temptation and licked them, tasting the mingled sweetness of her virgin's blood and reluctant desire. Her blood on his tongue sung to his, a promise of what she would soon yield fully to him.
"Tell me your name."
Silence greeted his command. He slapped the outside of her upper thigh, making her cry out.
"Melanthe," she choked out. He silently told himself she was too tender, even as a wave of protectiveness rose up within him.
"Mel-ann-thay. I am Lord Aran of Arids. I am your master."
With one last glance at her pale softness, he forced himself to leave the chamber and temptation. It wouldn't do to introduce his new slave to the pleasures of the flesh and blood without the protection of an army at his back, for Aran planned to immerse himself in her alluring charms for considerable time to the oblivion of anything else.
He would savour his Shaylan, coaxing her down the path of enslavement, binding her to him until she had no thought of resistance. Soon her innocence, whether real or imaginary, would fragment and she would be mewling like a cat beneath him as he filled her, begging him to drink from her body. While he didn't need much blood to sustain himself, he would draw heavily of her young body in the next couple of moons. Aridiane bites were addictive, and would further tighten the chains of his young prize's enslavement.
Melanthe was in pain, the days passing in a haze. She had expected rape, brutality. Instead, each day she was forced to endure her body being bent, twisted and stretched until her muscles cramped in protest.
That morning the stern woman has ordered her to lay on her back, and her wrists were tied to a long wooden pole above her head. Then her legs were bent back, her ankles tied on either side of her face. When she was eventually untied, she was made to sit on the stone floor with the woman sitting across from her pulling on her wrists to drag Melanthe forward while her feet pushed against Melanthe's ankles, forcing her legs to spread impossibly wide without bending.
She was forced to wear thick dark blue leather that covered from her hips to breasts. It molded tightly to her body by the leather ties that crisscrossed up over the pale flesh of her back. It pushed her breasts together and up into soft mounds above the leather bodice, and left her shoulders bare. Only a scrap of triangular silk covered her below, tied with ribbons that dangled down to her knees from each hip. Wearing the strange garments, she felt incredibly aware of her body.
Each night Melanthe fell into deep, exhausted sleep cursing Lord Aran. With time, she felt the listlessness after unknowingly drink poised wine fade and her energy return. It would do her no good to bemoan her fate. Escape was impossible, even if she managed to do so from the small chamber. What little she knew of Aridianes, it included knowing that once they had your blood, they could track you to the ends of the earth. She would need to bide her time, plan something. He would not let her easily escape him.
Each night she would be given wine mixed with herbs that would dull the aches and make her sleepy, yet left her tingling in the oddest places. An unfamiliar dark sensuality threaded through her dreams, leaving her feeling unsettled and out of sorts. At first they were vague suggestions. Increasingly she dreamed about Lord Aran, and she was both frightened and excited by the promise of his large, golden body. She would wake with a throbbing heat between her legs where he had touched her. The unusual feeling of silk only seemed to add to her anxiety, the whisper thin material damp and clingy, and she would find herself rubbing her thighs together.
The only person she saw each day was her stern tormentor. She was not allowed to leave the small square chamber where she slept. She would rise in the morning and break her fast with fruit and rolls, before embarking on a daily routine of stretching, arching, twisting and flexing. As soon as her body adjusted to some bizarre position, the woman would only devise crueller ones. At night she would be brought a tray of strips of meat, cheese, and foreign hardy food that varied between spicy and tasty. She would be given a small bucket and a cake of soap to wash herself before she fell into drugged sleep on her pallet each eve.
The dull monotony of serving in the temple seemed a far cry from her life now. She had heard only vague whispers of what it was to become a love slave of an Aridiane. It was a dark bondage of blood and sex, the two inextricably intertwined.
Aridianes were the natural enemy of Shaylans. Much more than that, she did not know. Her mother, she was told, was common street whore who barely knew her Shaylan father. Melanthe had been an unwanted burden, delivered to the temple as a baby to serve the goddess. And where she had loyally served until she was taken forcibly taken from the temple by vicious traders.
More than two handfuls of days had passed in the stone chamber until she was finally taken from that small room, albeit with a cover over her eyes. Around her she could hear the whisper of movement, soft voices and tinkling laughs. She didn't know how far she walked before she was made to stand with her back pressed against a wall.
When the cloth from her eyes was pulled free, she blinked hastily, gazing about her. With relief, she found was alone, the stern woman swiftly departing, thick metal doors closing behind her.
Melanthe stood in a chamber that was longer than it was wide. The stone ceiling arched over her, not quite twice her length at its highest cruve. Before her was an archway leading out on to a stone terrace looking out over placid blue-green water. The water was so far below it was slightly dizzying. The sky above was a soft blue and endless.
The walls of the chamber were lined with hammered gold frames that housed reflecting glass. It gave the room a feeling that it was larger than it seemed. Along the stone floor dozens of beautifully hand painted pillows were scatted over hand woven rugs in tones of amber, bronze, emerald and ruby. Small, low-lying intricately carved tables were arranged in a haphazard fashion, burdened with exotic delights. It was a chamber of comfort and warmth, so different from the plainness of her own isolated one.
Her breathing was slightly uneven as she imagined what was to come. Would she be restrained, as Lord Aran had threatened, while her body was used and drained by many? She blinked back the tears that threatened to spill down her cheeks.
Alone in the beautiful chamber, her anxiety increased as time crawled past, imaging the torments she would be subjected to, and would by the curse of immortality survive.
The beaded curtain over the archway was pushed aside, and before her stood Lord Aran. Her heart thumped in her chest, and she hated that he could sense the blood rushing through her veins. Blood he would take from her, willing or not.
Leather breeches rode low on his hips. His chest was bare, gleaming gold and solid. Black markings swirled down his arms to his wrist and over his chest above the flat male nipples. He looked dangerous, exotic, hard.
A betraying heat filled her at the intensity of his gaze. She wore nothing but leather and silk, her copper hair hanging to her waist and spilling down over breasts.
He strode toward her, and her stomach clenched. Her breasts rose and fell with her agitated breathing. The leather corset she wore was of the same dark blue leather that felt now almost like a uniform, only this one was tied down her front between the valley of her breasts, revealing the strip of pale flesh between the criss-cross ties.