Mistress of the Sword
Chapter 13: Shamed
Shailaja awoke to throbbing pain and the familiar sound of a camp. With her clouded vision she could make little of her surrounding, but gradually her eyes cleared and she realized that she was lying on her side on the floor of a tent. She was bound, hand and foot, her wrists tied in front of her and her legs bound at the ankles and knees. An additional restraint had been tied about her arms just above the elbows and passed beneath her breasts, pinning her arms to her sides. Her armour had been removed as well as her boots, and most of the right leg of her trousers had been cut away. A bloodstained bandage showed where the crossbow quarrel had pierced her thigh.
She could not tell for certain, but from the way her head throbbed it may have been bandaged as well. A rush of memories came back to her and with them a crushing sense of grief. Had she not experienced it she would not have thought it possible to experience such sorrow. The tears flowed, and in the privacy of the tent she sobbed uncontrollably. Her period of private mourning, however, did not last long. The tent flap was thrust aside and a familiar figure pushed his way inside.
I see youre feeling sorry for yourself, girl, Gorvag jeered, crouching on his haunches. But youre going to be feeling a lot more than that before Im through. Ive wanted to slip between your thighs from the first time I laid eyes on you and now Im going to get my wish.
Her shame at displaying her tears was driven from her by hatred and anger so intense that for a heartbeat her vision darkened. Is that why you did it? she raged. Is that why you sold your honour to the enemy and betrayed your comrades? She pulled at her bonds, struggling to get free in spite of the pain it caused her.
Dont flatter yourself, Gorvag sneered. Youre just the honey on the porridge. What Ive always wanted is control of the Ravens and now with your lover out of the way I have them.
Rage and sorrow rose within her at Gorvags callous reminder of his treachery. It was clear that he had everything worked out. No doubt he had used his scouting expedition to contact the Cebarians and set up the ambush, and probably he had arranged to betray Den through earlier negotiations when Den was committing himself to Uvar. She wondered how much gold Cebar had agreed to pay Gorvag to betray his own leader. It would almost certainly be a payment that would be much larger than his share as a member of the Ravens. And that share still awaited him. All he had to do was backtrack through the swamp, pretend that he was the last survivor of an ambush, and then take over the leadership of the company.
But none of that mattered now. Den was dead and Shailaja could barely contain her grief. All that kept her from sobbing uncontrollably was the fact that it would have dishonoured her in front of Gorvag.
Vengeance replaced sorrow as her dominant emotion. Gorvag would pay with his life for what he had done, and if she could arrange it he would take days to die. But in the meantime she had to find a way to escape. Gorvag had made his plans for her all too clear, but she knew that he would not be with her forever. Very soon he would have to return to the Ravens or else he would lose his chance at the leadership.
That meant that whatever he planned to do to her was going to happen very quickly. It was a thought that tied her stomach in a knot. She was completely at his mercy and in the middle of an enemy camp. Escape would be difficult if not impossible, and it was very likely that Gorvag would simply have his way with her and then cut her throat.
Unfortunately, it turned not to be even that easy. Gorvags mind was moving along lines similar to hers. But he was not content merely to shame her privately. He removed the rawhide thongs from her ankles and then retied them so they acted as a tether; and then pulling her forward, he forced her into a kneeling position and from there pulled her to her feet.
Excruciating pain coursed through her injured thigh, but she found that she could stand. An instant later she found that she could also walk, as Gorvag pulled her from the tent and into the open.
Her arrival must have been expected as there was a half circle of Cebarian soldiers outside the entrance to the tent. One of them, who judging from his better quality armour, was apparently of higher rank than the others stepped forward. So, Gorvag, the barbarian bitch finally awakens. What do you intend to do with her?
Give her that which she deserves, my lord, Gorvag responded obsequiously, and then turn her over to you.
Gorvags words and manner revealed to Shailaja that she was in the presence of Cebarian royalty, but she was not in the least intimidated. The petty king of an Arkanian city state was of little importance to a Kaltaran warrior.
The man who had spoken to Gorvag looked toward her and frowned. She appears to be a haughty bitch. Is it true she is Kaltaran?
So she claims, my lord, Gorvag answered. Shes a barbarian sure enough, and with that hair and colouring, she fits the description.
Throughout all of this Shailaja remained silent, although it galled her to be spoken of as if she was some exotic farm animal at a trade fair. She stood with head held high and looked straight ahead. But her appearance was deceiving. All the while she looked for a way to escape, taking in the disposition of the men about her and searching for any possible weakness.
Unfortunately she saw no such weakness. She was in a camp of about two hundred men judging from the number of tents, and could see that this was indeed the camp that Den had proposed to attack at . At the memory of her dead lover she felt a pang of remorse so strong that it was only with difficulty that she kept her composure.
Does she speak? the Cebarian asked, stepping close to her and looking into her face. He was a tall man and his eyes were almost on a level with hers. With his dark hair and eyes he was typical of the plains-dwellers Shailaja had seen and no doubt was considered handsome. But she found no attraction in him, nor could have with Dens death so recent. He looked upon her with eyes like winter, a manner she could well understand since she was part of a band that had come to despoil his land.
I speak, Shailaja answered. What do you wish me to say?
She answered insolently, not thinking or caring about the consequences. She had been defeated and captured, although not by fair means, and she was his to do with as he wished. From the looks she drew from his men she knew that her fate would not be a kind one, but she was not prepared to grovel or show fear.
The Cebarian noble moved as if to strike her and then seemed to think better of it, but his anger at her answer was plain to see. She is exceedingly arrogant. Is she always this insolent?
Oh yes, my lord, Gorvag answered. Even more so most times. I have longed to teach her proper respect, but have been denied the opportunity.
Do so now then. And then leave her with us while you return to your people. We shall take good care of her.
Shailaja had tested the tough rawhide thongs that bound her wrists and there was little give. Had her arms not been pinioned she might have made a grab for a sword or dagger, and then she could have died like a warrior, but she had obviously been bound to prevent such action.
It will be my pleasure to give the barbarian bitch the lesson she has been waiting for since I first met her, Gorvag drooled. He pulled on the thongs binding her wrists and forced her across the campsite. Shailaja saw that preparations had already been made for her punishment in the form of what was called a horse.
It was a simple contrivance, used for military punishment of a particularly painful sort, and was common in many camps, although Den had never used one in his. As she neared it she saw that in actuality it was not of the sort used for punishment, but a contrivance for sawing wood. However, in its structure it would do almost as well.
It consisted of two sets of poles each set fitted so that it formed an X. The two Xs were then joined by parallel logs fastened by means of wooden pegs. The whole made a serviceable sawhorse upon which to cut firewood for the camp as she could now see from the piles of cordwood stacked nearby. However, it also made a useful and sturdy contrivance for what Gorvag had in mind.
Upon reaching the sawhorse he had two men hold her arms while he untied her ankles. Shailaja considered struggling while she was prepared, because what was coming was quite obvious, but decided she would have presented nothing but an image of a frightened female rather than that of a Kaltaran warrior. Also her head still ached from the two blows Gorvag had dealt it and the wound in her thigh was so excruciatingly painful that even walking almost caused her to stumble and fall. How she had managed to fight on it the previous day she had no idea other than the fact that the blood rage must have dulled the pain.
Having untied her ankles Gorvag and the other two men forced her to straddle the sawhorse so that she was an arms length from the front crosspiece. While she was held in place by Gorvags two assistants he first secured her ankles by tying each of them to the lower legs of the sawhorse behind her. It forced her to pitch forward slightly, putting most of her weight on the front of her crotch, a position Shailaja found far from pleasant. In fact, it was painful in the extreme and became more so the longer she was tied in that position. Then he removed the thongs binding her arms and stretched them forward so that he could tie her wrists to the upper part of the sawhorse in front of her.
It was a painful and exposed position and it left her feeling incredibly vulnerable as it was almost certainly intended to. Shailaja almost protested this brutal treatment of a warrior, but then decided that if this was the way that Cebarians treated their prisoners, then so be it. It was not the way she treated prisoners, but she had certainly seen much worse things done to helpless enemies during the two years she had been a mercenary, although she had participated in none of them.
She sat upon the horse, looking neither left nor right while Gorvag went about the next part of his preparations. With a man like Gorvag it was never difficult to guess his intentions, so it came as no surprise when he took out his dagger and slit the right sleeve of her shirt from wrist to shoulder and then proceeded to do the same with her left. It allowed him to pull down what was left of the shirt to her waist, leaving her clad only in her breast band. With a flick of his knife he quickly cut through that, leaving her nude from the waist up.
Shailaja felt the eyes of every man in the camp upon her, but retained her composure. It was not the exposure of her body that discomfited her, but the knowledge that her captors were enjoying her shaming, each man imagining what he would like to do to her. There was a murmur of lascivious appreciation as the upper part of her body was completely exposed.
She really is a beauty, said the Cebarian, I hope that you do not intend to mar her too badly. I am looking forward to taking her off your hands.
For you, Prince Bekor, Gorvag answered, I will have her screaming in agony but the marks will not last. I will give her just twenty four lashes, two for each of Selenes cycles.
Shailaja resolved that Gorvags promise about the screams would not come to pass. As for the rest she had no wish to be scarred for the simple reason that the marks of a flogging would shame her for life, but she decided that if that was what Marana decreed for her warrior then she would accept it.
She felt the touch of a hand on her breasts, caressing the soft flesh and pinching her taut pink nipples. Shes going to really be something to enjoy, Gorvag leered, his face no more than a few inches from her ear. Ive never felt breasts like these.
I will let you sample her, Prince Bekor laughed. It will give her something to look forward to later.
Once again Shailaja had to endure further humiliation, but said nothing, holding herself statue still as Gorvag fondled her. There would be much to avenge when she finally gained her freedom and she carefully catalogued each insult, thinking how each would be repaid.
Still the Ice Maiden, Gorvag leered, his breath hot on the back of her neck. His tongue touched her throat but she moved not a muscle. She might not be able to stop him, but she would give him as little satisfaction as possible.
Gorvag gave her breasts one final bruising squeeze. Dont worry, he leered. When the time comes I have something to warm you up.
Had Shailaja known the exact meaning of his words they would have filled her with fear, but not fear of pain, but fear of utter humiliation. However, her thoughts were focused on her present ordeal. Already her position atop the horse was beginning to tell. The area between her legs ached from contact with the wooden crosspiece. With one leg badly injured she could not even attempt to lift herself from the painful position without causing even greater agony, so she sat still, bent slightly forward while Gorvag played with her breasts until finally tiring of the game, he finished her preparation for the punishment.
He removed her belt and then once again using his knife; he cut slit the side of her trousers from hip to ankle and peeled them away from her body. She was now completely nude astride the horse and offered Gorvag a wide expanse of flesh for punishment.
He was handed a yegger whip. Constructed of finely braided strips of leather it was capable of turning the back of a man or women into a bloody mess. However, to please the prince he carefully wrapped the whip with a long ribbon of cloth to reduce the damage it would do, and then lifted her long braid over her shoulder so that it would not obstruct his blows. He seemed to delight in the preparation, gauging her reaction, but she gave him not the least indication of fear, staring straight ahead across the campground.
You have courage, Gorvag said. I will admit that, but it will do you little good once the leather has been applied to your back. He stroked her back, running his fingers down the ridge of her spine and then fondled her buttocks as if outlining the target area for the flogging, and then he stepped back and raised the whip.
Shailaja could not say that her head was held high. In her strained position that would have been impossible, but she fixed her eyes on a point across the campground and waited for the first blow.
It came sooner than she would have liked, but first a strip of leather was pushed into her mouth by one of the soldiers. Bite down on this, he whispered. Try not to spit it out when you scream. Then the whip was brought down with all the force of Gorvags arm behind it.
Only those who have received a flogging can truly comprehend the stunning force of such a blow and how difficult it is not to scream in shock and agony.
Shailajas back exploded in fire and the breath was driven completely from her lungs in a harsh grunt that all watching could easily hear. Had it not been for the strip of leather clenched between her teeth she almost certainly would have screamed and her reaction was followed by a chorus of jeers and insults from the surrounding soldiers and a snicker of satisfaction from Gorvag. That was the first, barbarian. Think you can last through twenty-three more?
Shailaja gave him no reaction, but it was not just because she wished to deny him the satisfaction of knowing he had hurt her, but also because she was trying too hard to get back her breath and hold down the sob that sought to escape her lips. Somehow she managed not to scream and endured the next blow with equal stoicism as well with the next one and the one after that. But each successive blow piled pain on top of the other. By the sixth stroke if Shailaja not been tethered to the horse she would have fallen, and at the seventh a strangled cry forced its way from her throat and past her lips and black spots danced before her eyes.
Marana give your daughter strength, she prayed. She clutched at the crosspiece of the sawhorse, digging her nails into the wood in a desperate attempt to distract herself from the pain.
Perhaps Marana did answer her, because for a short while the pain seemed to ease, or perhaps she was given the strength to bear it better. Whatever the case her vision cleared and as the next blow fell she sank her teeth into the leather and closed her eyes against the tears of agony. Again and again the whip fell, Gorvag targeting her shoulders and back and occasionally the curve of her buttocks. She counted each blow, desperately hoping that Gorvag would not exceed his chosen twenty-four, until finally the end came and he threw down the whip. Somehow she had managed not to scream or beg, but her teeth were clenched against the excruciating pain and her eyes were blinded by tears.
Bravely done, girl. It was the soldier who had placed the strip of leather between her teeth. He removed the leather strip and then helped take her down from the sawhorse. To her shame, her legs buckled beneath her and she could not stand unaided. Two men dragged her across the clearing for the second part of her punishment.
Gorvag was already there, waiting by the bed of a wagon. In his hand he held a small glass ampoule which he held up for her inspection. Tharian Dust, barbarian. Im sure youve heard of it.
Tharian Dust? echoed Prince Bekor. Where did you get that? It must have cost a fortune.
I took it from a spice merchant in the last town we sacked, in return for not cutting his throat, Gorvag laughed. Ive been saving it for just this moment.
Ill not take that, Shailaja gasped. Barely able to stand she swayed between the arms of her captors, her back shrieking in agony.
You will have no choice, Gorvag sneered. Hold her, he ordered.
As he stepped toward her she struggled to escape, but she had less than half her normal strength. Even as she fought, her vision blurred and her legs buckled, forcing the men holding her to take all of her weight. All she could think of was the horror of being forced to inhale the substance in the ampoule.
Created from the tiny petals of a rare desert plant in the far south of Vedra, Tharian Dust was the most potent aphrodisiac known, creating such uncontrollable lust in some who took it that they had been known to go without food or drink for days, while in others it had resulted in death due to overexertion. It was reputed to be irresistible, creating a desire to mate that was so powerful that the very wealthy often used it to seduce reluctant young women into acts they would later regret.
Shailaja had never had need of it, nor did she intend to take it now, but she was held fast while Gorvag approached, and too weak to escape, was forced to watch as he removed the stopper from the ampoule and placed a tiny pinch of the dust in a small depression in the stopper.
She saw that the stopper was in reality a tiny tube through which the dust could be inhaled, the drug working most quickly when taken through the nose, but she had no intention of breathing in the vile substance.
Gorvag, however had other ideas. He handed the bottle to Prince Bekor and then moved behind her while the two men held her fast. Suddenly a hand was clamped over her mouth forcing her to breathe through her nostrils alone, and the tiny tube was presented in front of her. She tried to turn her head away, but Gorvag held her close, pressing her lacerated back against his chest. In desperation she held her breath, but Gorvag was well aware of the game she played. He pushed the tube into her left nostril, one finger over the lower end to make sure that by sudden exhalation she did not blow the dust away, and another pressed against her right nostril to ensure that when she next breathed she would inhale the dust. And then he simply waited for her to draw breath.
Shailaja would rather have suffocated than breathe in that noxious dust, and she held out for as long as she could, but eventually her diaphragm began to move spasmodically as her body attempted to draw in the life-giving element.
Finally, she could resist no longer. She took a breath, snorting air through her single nostril. The affect was almost instantaneous. A feeling she had experienced only in the throes of deepest passion swept over her, flooding her body with uncontrollable desire. Every part of her body, from her toes to the top of her head hungered for the touch of a man. Her rose-tipped breasts flushed, the nipples engorged with blood as were the petals of her womanhood. She moaned, a throaty groan of the deepest need.
Now barbarian, Gorvag crowed in triumph as he released her, you will serve me as you served your lover.
Shailaja fought the drug as Gorvag turned her and directed her toward the bed of the wagon, but it was like fighting the urge to breathe. Sweat beaded her body, streaming down her forehead and dripping between her breasts. The soldiers about her crowed with delight as she fought against what seemed to be her very nature.
A place had been prepared for them, consisting of a few blankets piled on top of sacks of grain. It offered no privacy and little comfort, but Gorvag was not interested in either. He wanted the public humiliation of the red-headed barbarian who had shamed and marked him and he wanted it to be as painful as possible. He lifted her and set her atop the blankets and then attended to arousing her to the heights of uncontrollable passion.
Shailaja arched her back as Gorvags fingers stroked sex, and let out a gasp of pain as she pressed her lacerated back into the bed of the wagon. But she could not stop herself. Just a few grains of the dust had corrupted her will to resist, turning her into a squirming receptacle for Gorvags twisted desires.
Gorvag stood over her while he removed his vest and shirt. Shailaja writhed upon the blankets, fighting the urge to spread her legs and present herself to him. Perhaps it was the pain of the flogging that helped her; or perhaps the revulsion and hatred she felt for Gorvag; or perhaps Gorvag had not given her enough of the precious drug, but whatever the reason she was able to fight down the almost overwhelmingly desire to offer herself to him like a sacrificial lamb.
Gorvag, however, was not the least perturbed by her resistance. This one is strong, he commented. Quite worthy of the name Ice Maiden, but I have never seen the dust fail. Soon she will be begging me to take her.
Shailaja dared not reply for fear of giving away the extent of her desire. She was in terrible pain from the flogging, but the agony of the stripes on her back and buttocks faded into the background as the dust took hold. It took a tremendous effort of will not to spread her legs and offer herself to her captors, but Gorvag soon broke even that slight resistance.
Held down on the wagon bed, she was helpless to stop him from stroking her breasts and belly, arousing the basest of cravings. Her nipples hardened under his touch, while her face, neck and torso coloured with the telltale flush of desire. A moan that was more like a whimper escaped her lips and she arched upward, ignoring the pain that shot through her lacerated back.
You see how she rises to my touch, Gorvag said, his fingers moving over her body, playing it as a musician plays a lyre. The dust has her now and she is helpless in its grasp.
He moved his hands lower, playing over Shailajas hips and belly, stroking her thighs, and creating such torment that she could not help but cry out. Stop this, she begged. Kill me and get it over with.
In truth she would have much preferred death to the shame she was forced to suffer. To die with sword in hand was one thing, and torture was another, but Shailaja was being subjected to the vilest degradation; forced to endure a form of shame so low and vulgar that no honourable warrior could countenance it.
She moaned as Gorvag moved his hands upward, her legs spreading of their own accord. She was filled with an almost uncontrollable craving and she fought to break the grip of the hands that held her even as her body betrayed her.
Please, she begged again, stop it. But her body was sending another message. Her womanhood wept, a fact that Gorvag was able to quickly confirm with a touch of his hand.
See how the Waters of Selene flow, he crowed. The dust works. Soon she will be begging to be used.
Bekor crowded closer. I see you speak truly. Her body burns. Take her now.
Not yet, my lord, Gorvag answered. First she must beg for release. And you will beg, wont you, my Ice Maiden? He finished this last by stroking the inside of her thighs, moving his hands higher each time.
What had seemed agony before now declined into insignificance. Shailaja could not hold back the fevered moans that escaped her lips, nor the straining of her body as she invited Gorvag to take her. But she still could not bring herself to utter the words he wanted to hear. And then he touched her where she could not resist. She screamed and cried out in her anguish. End this! Please end this.
You see, Gorvag leered. She begs me to take her.
No, Shailaja moaned. Thats not true.
But everything else about her denied the lie she had spoken. As Gorvag touched her petals she broke. Dont touch . Oh, please take me. I beg you. Take me now. End my pain.
Is this what you want? Gorvag sneered, releasing the ties on his trousers. What he revealed had Shailaja salivating. She arched her body toward him in clear invitation.
Around her the Cebarian soldiers lewdly remarked on her body and her more than obvious state of sexual arousal, especially Prince Bekor, who leaned close to her. By the gods, he leered. Youve got a body like Selene and a face to match. You are going to afford me and my soldiers much enjoyment before we execute you.
The reference to the moon goddess did little to please her. In the central lands of Vedra Selene is seen not only as the goddess of the first moon, but also as the embodiment of love and desire. As Shailaja twisted in torment, she fought not to become what she represented, but the quivering of her swollen breasts and the heat of her loins gave the lie to everything she wished to deny.
As Gorvag removed his clothing she strained toward him, and experienced the torment of denial as he ordered the soldiers to restrain her. Hold her, he demanded. I want the bitch to sweat in anticipation. I want her to experience the desire she has brought to so many without fulfillment until I decide it is time.
As the soldiers held her squirming body Shailaja experienced more agony than she had ever thought possible. Her body cried out for sexual release, but Gorvag would not give it to her, instead he taunted her as he stood over her, tantalizingly stroking his manhood.
For all of his defects of character and the deformity Shailaja had dealt to his nose, Gorvag was a well-made man, powerfully built and well-muscled, especially a certain muscle that now stood at the ready as he played with it. She groaned in desire, but somehow held back the cries that sought to issue from her mouth.
It was very much like being two people at once. On the one hand she was a tender young woman, fearing the shameful ordeal that awaited her, and resisting with every fibre of her being. At the same time she was a wanton jade, desiring every man to possess her. She moaned in anticipation, ignoring the lacerations that marked her back and arched toward Gorvag until he finally relented and pressed his body to hers.
You deserve much less than this, he sneered as he thrust into her. I would like to watch you suffer longer, but I have the Ravens to claim and I dare not wait much longer.
He took her hard and she welcomed everything he did. She cried out and would have raked his back with fervour had not two men held her wrists. That only seemed to increase her carnal heat, and she heaved herself against him crying out as he used her, and begging him for more.
At the same time she felt the deepest shame at what she was doing. As has been said it was as if she was two people; one giving in to her basest instincts and the other a pure spirit, filled with shame, and watching the utter degradation of her other self.
Even when Gorvag finally finished with her she was still in the grip of the Tharian Dust and would have welcomed him again if he had taken her. But Gorvag was finished with her humiliation. He had shamed her completely, reducing her to little more than a mewling puppet who danced at his command.
I leave her to you, my lord, Gorvag grinned, stepping away from her. I go to take charge of her dead lovers command. I expect you will keep her amused.
She slaughtered a score of my men, Bekor growled. Their mothers, widows, and children will wish to see her subjected to a suitable punishment. But first be assured, she will serve my men, and serve them well.
Sadly, I cannot stay to see it, Gorvag said. Until we meet again, my lord.
Gorvag left, but so great was Shailajas anguish that she hardly noticed his departure. What she did notice was the next man between her legs and she welcomed him eagerly, taking all he offered and demanding more. It was the same with the man after that and the one after him. There were two hundred men in the camp and in her madness Shailaja may have served them all. For three days Bekor waited until it became clear to him that Gorvag had kept his part of the bargain and the Ravens had given up their siege of the hill. That was more than enough time for every man in the camp to taste her, and that is almost certainly what occurred. It was three days of enduring the taunts and stares of the soldiers, and serving their needs.
In between being used Shailaja was kept in a special enclosure. It consisted of a wooden cage with posts spaced about a span apart driven deep into the ground. She was thrown into the cage without clothing or covering and forced to endure the jeers and stares of the soldiers. Unable to leave the cage even to attend to bodily functions she was forced to live next to her own filth. In desperation she dug a hole in one part of the enclosure and buried everything there. Finally, on the morning of the fourth day she was she removed from the cage in order to be marched to Cebar for trial and public execution.
By that time, the Tharian Dust no longer plagued her, but she had been left with more than enough physical pain to hold her attention for the next few days. She could walk, but every step was a reminder of her shame and she was given nothing to cover her nakedness.
Shailaja had no idea why the prince so strongly desired decided to make an example out of her. Maybe it was because she was the only prisoner; or more likely because she was one of the legendary Kaltaran barbarians. It might even have been because she was a woman of some physical beauty. Whatever the reason she was marched home with his army as the main prize in a triumphal procession.
The prince and his escort went first, some dozen mounted men, well armed and with banners flying; and Shailaja followed, hands bound in front of her, and her long legs tethered to prevent escape; not that she would have gotten far with mounted men to run her down. But it was the spectacle the prince wanted. His army had suffered losses, some dead and a similar number wounded and Shailaja had accounted for a large number of those casualties. Something must be seen for that sacrifice and she was the only prisoner. Her unbound waist-length hair the only covering to hide her nudity, she marched behind the princes horse, her arms stretched before her and her naked feet bloody from the road.
Behind her a soldier walked carrying a thick leather thong. Every now and then he touched it to her body, whipping her legs and buttocks as she was dragged forward, helpless to resist.
The prince was greeted by cheering crowds as he entered his city and Shailaja received jeers and catcalls as well as a few well-thrown stones and a considerable amount of spit and horse dung. Passing under the balcony of one house she even had a full chamber pot emptied upon her.
But it could have been much worse. Her soldier escort kept her from being mobbed and perhaps the sight of a women warrior, well over the height of most Cebarian males awed some of the crowd, as many stood in silence as she passed.
The procession finally reached the castle and with it the next part of her ordeal. She was marched in through the castle gate and while the prince entered the great hall she was held in the castle courtyard and doused with buckets of cold water until the filth was washed from her. After that she was placed in proper irons, heavy metal shackles being locked to each ankle and similar restraints being placed on her wrists; then she too was led into the castle.
After her previous treatment Shailaja expected to be taken to the bowels of the castle, but that was not the case. Instead she was taken to the upper rooms and placed under a guard of six men. Still nude, she was watched over while food and drink were brought before her.
The room she was in was large and the walls lined with heavy draperies and tapestries to keep out the drafts. She sat at a table large enough to serve a dozen people and she guessed that she was in one of the royal apartments. It turned out that she was in the apartment of the prince himself and she soon found out why.
The food and drink helped her somewhat as it was the first proper meal she had eaten since her captivity. She was still far from well, suffering from the heavy use of her body, as well as the injuries inflicted upon her in battle and at the hands of Gorvag. She felt better than she had, but she was suffering from injuries that would have crippled a lesser warrior.
As night fell she was taken into the next room. It was dominated by a large four-poster bed and other items of heavy furniture. With much laughter from her guards she was taken to the bed and forced onto it. She did not go willingly, having finally guessed what this game was all about, but her weakened condition left her unable to deal with so many guards. She did manage to drive her manacles into the face of one man before she was seized by four others and heaved onto the bed. Then while they held her, two others rearranged the chains so that her limbs were chained to each corner of the bed. She lay there spread-eagled while the guards commented upon her charms until Prince Bekor finally arrived. Once there he dismissed the guards and stood over her.
Now that you have been broken in, he said, it is only proper that you serve me. This time, however, there will be no use of magical powders to give you pleasure, instead you will first serve me and then serve the castle guard. When they are finished with you, and it may take them some time to finish, you will be taken as you are to the executioners square and there publicly impaled. I am told it is a most painful death, and a very long one. With your great strength I expect it will take you many days to die.
There wasnt much left of Shailajas great strength. She had already suffered far more than any woman could be expected to endure. Lying on her back and spread wide like an offering to the gods, Shailaja could think of nothing she could say that would pass as any act of wit or defiance and so she held her tongue, having discovered that silence was just as irritating to men like Bekor as any clever rejoinder.
As she had thought, he did find her silence most annoying and seeking to punish her, stripped off his clothing and climbed between her legs. It was then that Shailaja produced a well-time laugh. Do your best oh prince. But you will punish few women with that, least of all me.
As she had surmised he was far less than pleased to have his manhood mocked, and he made her pay for her levity, using her most hard and inflicting many bruises on her breasts and thighs. It was especially painful where the crossbow quarrel had pierced her thigh, but she showed little pain or discomfort to the prince and he was still angry when he was finally finished with her.
I should have you whipped, he growled, but I want you strong for your execution. Lets see if you find the barracks so amusing.
He put on a robe and called for his guards. They entered, eyeing her speculatively. Take the wench, Bekor ordered, and enjoy her to the full. Just remember she is to suffer no permanent damage. I want her to put on a good show at her execution.
The guards grinned their pleasure, and applying the chains once again, they escorted her from the room. She was taken out of the princes quarters and back the way she had come, finally crossing the courtyard to the barracks. She was marched inside to find some men waiting for her. They looked up from whatever they were doing, be it gambling or drinking and gave her a rousing if unsavoury welcome. Then they led her into the middle of the room and in spite of her last second struggles heaved her onto the top of a table and stretched her out. One of the guards produced a set of keys and removed the irons from her ankles and then, while she struggled in vain, they proceeded to enjoy her, each man taking her as hard as he could.
Shailajas next few hours were very far from enjoyable. Her session with the prince had left her barely warmed up, but she was completely exhausted by the time the last of the guardsmen finished with her. She had now been used by over two hundred men in only a week and it went without saying that she was also sorer than she had ever been or ever hoped to be again.
It was one of the aphorisms of central Vedra that a man used a woman. That is a mild way of putting what happened to Shailaja. She had now been used so heavily that she was like to be completely worn out, and when the Captain of the Guards finally ordered that she be taken to the dungeons she could barely walk.
Her wrists were still manacled, but it was not thought necessary to shackle her ankles. She was bruised from head to foot and sported a number of bite marks in the most tender of places. Her loins ached so badly that she had great difficulty in even placing one foot in front of the other, so the guards had every reason to be confident that she could not escape.
However, as they reached the stairs leading to the dungeons Shailaja realized that if she was to escape it was now or never. Once she was buried in the dungeons escape would be impossible and there would be little for her to do but await the day of her execution. And so she made her move.
Marana must have given her the strength she needed, for Shailaja was seized with a sudden surge of energy. It was thought that only four guards were necessary to escort her to the dungeons. Two went in front and two followed. All were armed, but they were not expecting a woman they had used so severely to do more than stumble placidly along with them. At the top of the dungeon stairs she suddenly turned, and grabbing the man behind her pulled him toward her and then let his weight carry him down the stairs into the two guards below her. While they were recovering from the suddenness of her action she slammed the chain joining her shackles into the face of the remaining guard. Foolishly, he had not even bothered to wear his helmet, and the cold metal of the manacles knocked him half unconscious. As he staggered backward she seized his sword and with a single quick movement ran him through. Then she turned on the others.
By now the three below her had recovered, but she had the advantage of being at the top of the narrow staircase. They had to fight their way toward her one at a time, and even weakened as she was, she was more than a match for each of them.
She dispatched all three with brutal efficiency and then found the key to her metal bracelets. Fortunately, she had had the presence of mind to note which of the guards was carrying it. Removing the manacles, she next stripped the biggest of the guards and dressed in his clothing. Then taking a sword and all of their daggers, she climbed the dungeon stairs, gained the courtyard and headed for the stables.
In the dark the tired stableboy did not notice who she was until it was too late. She knocked him on the head, chose the best horse she could find plus a remount, and rode from the castle. With the blessing of Marana still with her she found the gate open. Within a quarter turn of the glass she was free of Cebar and riding down the road. She had no trouble deciding where she was headed. She turned the horses head toward Uvar. Somewhere down that road was Gorvag, and she would find him even if it meant her death.