Chapter 1: Punished
The sun had just set on my small village when my mother began to worry. "Wade, where's your sister?" she asked.
"Alegria went fishing this morning, but I haven't seen her since."
"Go look for her."
I slung my bow over my shoulder and went in search of my sister. I checked the village in case she'd come back, but just hadn't come home. Twelve wooden cabins sat in a clearing deep in the forest, each with its own small garden. In the center sat the largest cabin where people of the village met to socialize and trade with one another. No one had seen my sister, so I went to check her favorite fishing spot.
When I reached the river I came across my sister's bow, broken in half. Nearby was her quiver, arrows strewn across the river bank. Her fishing rod was wedged against a rock down the river. Two sets of heavy footed tracks had walked into the forest, probably carrying my then unconscious sister. From the shape of their boots I could tell they were Northerns. Men with no trade or skill. At their best they were conquers, at their worst they stole and looted to survive. My hand tightened around my bow. Marauders had come this far east and had grabbed my sister like she was some sort of animal. I would track them down and show them who the animal was.
When I got home, I expected my mother to share in my fury. To rally the clan. We were hunters. We'd hunt down the people that took Alegria like common thieves and bring them swift justice. Instead my mother fell to the ground. The most unnatural wail came from her lips. Never had I seen such sorrow. I didn't understand. It was as if I had told her I had found Alegria dead.
When others came running at the sound, I soon learned what my mother already knew. I had only seen nineteen summers. No one in my lifetime had been taken by marauders. As the women tried to calm and console my mother. I explained to the men what I had found. I asked for volunteers to help me get my sister back. I expected every man in the clan to step forward. My sister was much loved by the village. But not one man volunteered. That's when I understood. No one was willing to anger marauders. Even if we killed the ones that took Alegria, what if more came to avenge them? I came from a clan of cowards. I pushed past them. I would bring Alegria home myself.
"Wade! No!" My mother yelled as I walked away. I ignored her cries.
It had taken me two days to track her. I tried not to think about the horrors that must have befallen her as I searched. Just two days, but it felt like weeks had passed. The starless night shrouded my movement as I crept through the marauders' camp. Several large tents sat at the center of the camp. Surrounding them were over a hundred smaller tents. My sister lay in a wooden cage, near the area where food was prepared and supplies were kept.
The marauders' camp was eerily silent. So many people, even in the middle of the night should have made more sound. In the quietness, every step I took as I crept towards my sister's cage crunched in my ears. Somehow I made it to the cage without drawing attention to myself. I pulled out my knife and sliced through the rope holding the cage closed as quickly as I could. My sister sat up, her eyes full of surprise and joy as she held her bound wrists toward me. While she still wore clothes, a hole had been cut in her pants and her shirt hung lose over her breasts. I swallowed my anger as I cut her hands and feet free and helped her from the cage.
"Escape!" A male voice called from a distance.
My sister and I both bolted towards the tree line. We were woodsmen, if we could get far enough away, we could hide and survive off the land. The marauders would be at a disadvantage. But I never got that far. The last thing I saw was my sister making it to the safety of the trees when I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head. My consciousness waned. Alegria always was the faster runner.
I woke coughing and sputtering. Someone had tossed water on my face. I tried to wipe my eyes. That's when I realized my wrists were bound and tied to a pole over my head. The marauder camp was large, made up of a few hundred people. I had earned the attention of maybe thirty. They stood around me in a circle. The man I assumed was their leader stood in front of me. I blinked a few times to clear the water from my eyes.
The man inspecting me had sandy blond hair, a strong build and square jaw. His clothes were expensive looking, fine dyed leathers. He spoke. "And who is so bold as to steal what is mine?"
My teeth clenched. "I didn't steal from you. I freed my sister."
The man held my knife. He pressed the tip against my throat. "That wasn't my question." He slowly began to push the tip into my flesh, a bit more and I would start bleeding.
I wracked my brain for the answer he wanted. I could barely remember the question. "Wade! My name is Wade."
The pressure stopped and I went lax in my binds.
"Wade. You are lucky. I am feeling particularly generous today. I'll let your sister go free."
I had just watched my sister get away. They wouldn't be able to find her if they tried. She could disappear into the forest like any animal. The man was just trying to save face in front of his people.
"But you will have to take her place." The man grabbed my chin and looked into my eyes. "The pleasure we will give each other will be epic."
My eyes narrowed. Was he insane? There would be no pleasure, especially not epic pleasure. There would just be me slitting his throat and escaping as soon as the opportunity arose.
The man smiled. He had perfect teeth, a sign of wealth. "But like all things worth having, in the beginning there will be pain. You defied me when you freed your sister and for that, you must be punished."
My muscles tightened as the man cut the clothes from my body. I stared defiantly as the crowd admired my nakedness. While I was not as large as the man in front of me, years of hard work had left my body well-toned. Long days under the summer sun had tanned my skin which many women had commented went well with my auburn hair and dark eyes. But these people were all sick. Useless, covetous, bastards that needed to put their energies toward something productive for once. The man held a flogger. He ran it across my chest. The sensation of soft leather against my skin would have been pleasant had I not known his intentions.
He stood behind me and I braced myself for the first blow. But it didn't come. He must have been watching me, waiting for my body to relax because the moment I wondered if he was still there, the first blow landed. I had planned to be stoic and strong. But I wasn't expecting it, so instead I screamed like a woman. My eyes welled with tears and my body arched away from the pain. The crowd laughed.
Before I could recover another hit landed. It felt like nails being dragged across my bare skin. Then another hit and another. Eventually, I lost all reason. I begged him to stop. But he didn't. The pain got worse until my mind couldn't handle it anymore. I would lose consciousness only to be awakened by another hit.
"Aiden, I think you've killed him." A dark haired man said as he examined my eyes.
His worried face was the last thing I saw before the darkness took me.
When I woke up, I was laying on soft fur in a tent. Strips of cloth soaked in kassa oil covered my back. Men of war often kept salves to heal cuts and welts. Small hands gently rolled me on my side and a bowl was lifted to my lips. I drank the water too fast and started coughing. The slave boy put the bowl down and rubbed my arm until my coughing stopped.
"What you did was very brave. Insane. But brave." The boy had an accent. He was from the Southern region. We were about the same age, but that's where the similarities stopped. He was slight of build, with a round face, and large green eyes. The blond curls on top of his head suggested royal blood. But since every grain of sand in the southern lands had its own king, they had more royals than goat herders.
I cleared my throat. "No more than anyone else would do for their sister."
He stared into the distance. "All I did when they took my sisters was fear for myself."
From his eyes I could tell he was in a faraway place, filled with screams and nightmares. I felt bad for reminding him of whatever pain he was reliving. I strained to lift a hand to his knee.
He smiled down at me, bringing a wet cloth to my head. The coolness of it felt wonderful. "I'm Kei, by the way and don't worry, you'll heal. My Master, Cydale, stopped Master Aiden in time."
Part of me wondered if I should be grateful for Cydale's intervention. Maybe it would have been better if I had died. But I quickly pushed that thought aside. No matter what happened to me, as long as I lived, I could escape. And I would escape. In a few months my clan would leave the village and make camp in our winter hunting grounds. Marauders definitely wouldn't go that far south, they'd risk running into actual armies. By the time we went back to the village in the spring my sister and I would be long forgotten by this band of thieves.
It took three days of Kei's constant care before I was strong enough to stand. After that I was tied up and left in the wooden cage where my sister had been kept. I was given a bowl of tasteless gruel which I had to eat like a dog with my hands tied behind my back. This provided great amusement to the men that fed me.
When they left Kei sneaked over to my cage and held a piece of cheese to my lips. I took the morsel from his fingers and relished the taste. It seemed as though I hadn't tasted something so good in a lifetime. Why was Kei showing me such kindness? I wasn't in a position to repay him. Maybe he felt sorry for me. But I didn't think that was the case. Kei seemed to be kind by nature and there was no point in looking any deeper than that. I considered taking him with me when I ran. If anyone deserved freedom, it was Kei.
When my wounds had healed, two men I'd never seen before dragged me from my cage to a tent. There Kei waited with a basin. He washed my body in silence. His lips pressed together in a tight line. I looked at him questioningly. When his eyes met mine it was like he spoke to me without saying a word. I'm sorry.
As the men carried me from the tent by my arms, my bound feet dragging through the dirt, I knew something terrible was about to happen to me.
I was taken to a massive tent at the center of the camp. Inside three long tables formed a U, with men sitting around them. Slave girls served them food, sat on their laps, drank and flirted. I was left on my knees in the middle of the tent. All three tables faced me. Somehow, some way, I was to be the evening entertainment. At the head table, in the largest chair, sat Aiden. Beside him sat Cydale. Kei hugged Cydale's arm as he watched me with sadness in his eyes.
Aiden rose from his seat and walked over to me. He cut the ropes binding my ankles. I tried to stand but he pushed down on my shoulder keeping me on my knees. He took a shield and dropped it down in front of me. Spikes from the shield jutted at me. I was positioned so that if I fell forward I'd be impaled. He took a cloth and tied it in my mouth.
What a stupid form of torture. While it wouldn't be comfortable, I could stay on my knees, leaning over the spikes for hours, possibly days if I had too. It would make poor entertainment for their meal. I wouldn't even feel the strain. It wasn't until the first man came up behind me and lowered his pants that I realized Aiden's full plan. As I felt warm oil pouring between my butt cheeks I began to panic. But struggling meant death. With my arms tied behind my back, if I allowed myself to lose my balance I'd land on the shield.
The look of satisfaction of Aiden's face when I realized my situation was sickening. I bit down on the cloth in my mouth and swore before I left I'd kill him for his twisted game. Then it began. The man whose face I never saw grabbed my hips and slowly began to push inside me. I screamed in agony. It felt as though I was being cut in half from behind. Several times my face fell dangerously close to the spiked shield and I had to catch myself. I endured every painful thrust. My eyes squeezed shut as tears ran down my cheeks.
Finally, the man's movements seemed to falter. He slammed into me hard and fast almost making me fall over with the force of his assault. My body tensed as I fought to keep my balance. His seed spilled into me as he came with a loud groan. The audience clapped. I breathed a sigh of relief. I had survived. My eyes met Kei's. He shook his head.
I didn't understand what he meant until the next man took the position of the last. He was telling me it wasn't over. One by one, faceless men used my body as I knelt helplessly bound. Not just bound, but in peril. I couldn't even fall to the ground and wallow in my shame and misery. My pain faded, and turned into blissful numbness. At that point I was sure Aiden would run out of men before I fell because my body no longer felt anything.
Then there was a spark. I didn't quite understand what it was. Through the shame and humiliation, my body felt a twinge of pleasure. Deep inside me in a place I did not know existed. It was like hearing a distant knock and not being sure you heard anything at all. Then I felt it again. And again. The feeling went from almost nothing, to a steady, pounding drum inside my body. Much to my embarrassment I became hard. I expected the diners to point and laugh. But the room was silent except for the labored gasps of the man pounding me. He came inside me. And I looked up at Aiden who lifted my chin and with a grin said, "One more."
One more. I could take one more. Then this would be over. I could go back in my cage and try to forget. But one more was one too many. The fire had been lit. My body had become sensitive. Every touch made me shake. My legs betrayed me. I could barely stay up as pleasure unlike anything I had ever experienced coursed through me. Aiden's words echoed through my mind, "There will be pain and there will be pleasure." My knees wobbled as familiar pressure built up in my groin. I hadn't touched myself, but I was going to come.
As the last man reached his peak I was knocked over the edge. My head flew back as my body exploded, my seed spilled in long hard jets. I couldn't breathe. Everything I was seemed to be leaving my body. I was lost in my release. When there was nothing left, I collapsed on the ground. Drained.
My eyes shot open. I collapsed. But I wasn't dead. On one side of my head, was the shield. The other side, Aiden's foot.