More Betrayal this Weekend
This probably will make no sense if you haven’t read my prior posts leading up to this one. So far there are two posts, feel free look them up, they have the keyword “Betrayal” in the title. Now, without further delay, here’s the next chapter in Betrayal’s Hands…
“My Lady General,” one of the Nordlamar scouts called, hurrying up to her as she walked from one tired unit to another.
Shar stopped and returned the scruffy looking young man’s salute. “What news?”
“Captain Promus lives, General!” His voice betrayed both his excitement and his anger. “As do many of her soldiers. They’ve been taken prisoner and I witnessed them being branded as slaves. They were breaking camp—I fear they return to Aradmath, to Duth Darek.”
“Damnation,” Shar muttered, her soaring hopes crashing to the ground. “Which camp? What is their standard?”
“Makan, Lady,” the scout said. “His forces were the ones to capture hers.”
Shar scowled and looked off in the distance towards the smoke that rose in thin spires from the enemy campfires too numerous to count. The soldier read her mind and spoke without being bidden, “They’re far behind the lines, General, they are lost to us for now.”
“Damn,” Shar muttered again, but nodding her head at the scout’s wisdom. After all, he’d seen the situation, she had not.
“Send word to the Captains, I want one warrior from each; their sneakiest, dirtiest, and most dangerous,” She told him after a moment. Then she nodded her head, determined in her course. The scout saluted and was off, hurrying to do her bidding.
“Soldier,” she called after him, halting him in mid stride. “Refresh yourself first, you’ve the look of the wild in you.”
The scout smiled thankfully and hurried off towards the mess tent, already imagining the wonderful smell of baking bread and stew thick with fish, meat, and vegetables.
“I’ll get them back one way or another,” Sharlotta muttered to herself after he’d left. “You just hang on, Anna, and don’t get yourself killed!”
* * * *
The caravan rolled slowly up to the imposing East Gate of Duth Darek. Sentries posted on the walls had been alerted by the advanced scouts about the arrival of the baron and his troop. Inside the gates the caravan split into two, the baron and his family moving towards the wealthier inner city. The slave cages and the bulk of the soldiers went south to the auction square and slave pens.
Anna looked out from her cage at the city, trying to note the twists and turns they took as the caravan wended its way through the buildings. The outer sections, near the gate, were filled with downtrodden buildings often in need of repair. The further in they went the nicer the buildings and the people looked. Soon enough the buildings began to show signs of abuse and neglect. It was then that she noticed the stink of unwashed humanity mixed with death and decay. The final ingredient in her nasal assault was the bitter sting of lime, no doubt used to dispose of the dead.
Before the slave pens and the auctions square were fully in her sight, a warrior dressed in Baron Makan’s livery rode his horse back along the line to her wagon and its escort. “You’re to take this one to the house and have her bathed.” He ordered the driver and the escort warriors. With a nod, the wagon turned off and Anna could only see her soldiers for a moment more.
They moved along the twisting streets among the buildings of unwashed grey stone for what seemed like an interminable amount of time. Anna crouched low in her cage and tried not to give into self-pity. Eventually, the driver of the wagon pulled up and stopped before a large house, as grey and featureless as all the others in this district. Her captors approached the door to the cage, one unlocking the iron padlock with a key from around his neck. She fought them as they dragged her from the cage. Fierce as a wolf defending a litter of pups, Anna was nevertheless hauled out of the cage. She was moved, still struggling and kicking, into the house and through the halls to the bathing room. She could feel eyes upon her, but she saw no one as she moved through the building. Forced into the bathing room, she could see a large tub and smell overpowering perfumes. Anna found herself unceremoniously dropped into the tub.
Sputtering, she surfaced to find herself the subject of a group of strange women dressed in simple robes devoid of any real color. They descended on her en masse, attacking with brushes and soap. Her hair was pulled as they scrubbed at it with flowery shampoo. She attempted to fight back, only to find herself pushed under the water until her breath nearly gave out. When she again surfaced, she was gasping and too weak to do more than cooperate. The women finished her bath quickly and efficiently, washing her everywhere.
Once she was bathed Anna was wrapped in a towel and returned to the soldiers. The eldest of the women looked to the oldest of the warriors. “Put her in the end room at the top of the stairs. I think you’ll find that everything you need is there.”
The warrior nodded, turning and gesturing to the others to bring the still fighting Anna. Up the wooden stairs they went, moving along the long balcony past multiple entrances. The sounds coming from behind a few of the doors that hadn’t been properly shut clued her in to the purpose of this house. The door at the end of the hall was opened by the older soldier. He entered the room and watched the others as they escorted Anna inside. Against the far wall was a large solid bed with heavy posts at each corner. Attached to each post was a chain and manacle. Anna’s eyes grew wide as she realized her captor’s intent. She renewed her attempt to escape with vigor. Laughing, her two escorts pushed her down onto the bed. The free man attached the first of her flailing hands to the appropriate bedpost.
Screaming in anger, Anna swung her other fist, hitting the warrior in the side of the head. His tooth bloodied her fist, but she had the satisfaction of seeing his pain. The warriors made haste to chain her limbs to the bed. One of the younger ones draped a sheet over her naked body, and all three left the room. Anna heard a key turn in the lock, and then footsteps down the hall.
Baron Makan led the convoy of his family through into the luxuriant architecture of the inner city. The closer they came to the palace, the larger and more ornate the houses became. They stopped in front of a nearly palatial estate. As the carriage pulled to a halt, the Baron rode back along the lines to speak to his wife.
“Lady, I will be out for most of the evening, I have several meetings to conduct. Don’t wait supper on me.” Nodding brusquely, he turned his sturdy horse and rode off towards the city.
The baroness sighed. She rightly assumed that his ‘meetings’ would be conducted in the gaming parlors and brothels of the outer city. She longed for the days when she held his interest. After the birth of their last child it was rare that he visited her bedchambers, and romance was nearly unheard of even then.
Baroness N’meria let a servant assist her in departing the carriage and looked about, wondering where Karoak, the captain of their home guard, was. He’d been the most recent of her servants to sooth her loneliness on many nights and she was beginning to feel forgotten and undesirable. If Makan would simply remember his love for her sh’d gladly give up her lover and return to his arms, but it seemed the older and the more influential the King’s Baron became, the less of his past he cared to remember.
“Lady T’leren, Lord’s Baron Darleth dep Katal called upon you while you were out,” another servant said.
T’leren’s face almost remained impassive. After a very brief pinching of her eyebrows she smiled and thanked the servant. “I shall have a letter sent to him right away,” she said, inwardly dreading the experience.
“Nonsense, daughter, you should visit him! Yes, on the ‘morrow, I think. A good night’s rest and a bath and then we shall head out for there,” the Baroness said.
“Shouldn’t we wait for father?” T’leren said quietly, hoping.
“He worked hard for this union, of course he’ll approve.”
T’leren smiled again, hiding her sigh of discontent. She had no interest or desire in the ruthless Baron. Her mother might have high hopes for her, but her mother was a hopeless romantic and a hypocrite. T’leren knew full well that she was having an affair on her father; many of the staff knew of it. In fact, rumor had it that over the years more than a few of their servants had taken their turn at warming her bed.
Yet all the while the baroness proclaimed such virtues as undying love and eternal companionship. Not for the first time, T’leren dreaded her future and wondered what could possibly be worse than to live in such slavery.
An image of the caged woman, naked and shameless, came to her mind then. T’leren shivered and realized that there were indeed worse things. The chains she dreaded weren’t the ones that the Nordlamarian wore. Then again, thinking of the many nights she had witnessed her mother hiding her tears at her father’s actions, she wondered whose servitude was worse.
* * * *
Shar stood on the wooden tower and watched as twenty sweat-stained warriors fought against another twenty. She marked several of them as they were defeated. Soon only a handful remained, defenders of the scenario that they’d established. It was the fourth one of the day, and she was keeping a list of each soldier’s performance.
“Regul,” she said, turning to the older sergeant standing near her.
He turned to her and said, “yes, General?”
“Narrow it down to thirty by tomorrow morning, then give them two days off. Keep an eye on them. I only need twenty, the rest are to be returned to their units.”
“My Lady,” Regul acknowledged, saluting her with a fist to his chest. “I can tell you now who will lead them, he is a scout named Corillius Argondiir. I believe you know him.”
Shar nodded. Corillius was her cousin, the son of Bethel Promus, her aunt on her father’s side. Cor was also the grandson, through his father’s side, of Argondiir Fireeye, the chieftain of the Nordlandiirs when her people had fled Aradmath in secrecy. They had joined forces and created a new nation. She knew her cousin well, but not as well as Anna did. They had grown up together and fought and played together. He would see her free or he would not return.
Shar watched a moment longer and then turned and walked away. They truly were a dangerous group of people, she admired their skills and their dedication. They could sneak through the sparsest of cover as silently as a shadow, spring up and strike without warning, then be away before anyone knew they were there. She needed them, her sister and her warriors were in trouble and well on their way to Duth Darek.
In three days they would be on their way to getting them back and avenging their fallen. Shar only wished she could go with them. The mantle of leadership was more responsibility and duty now than it had ever been in her life, and not for the first time she wondered when her duty to her people would be served.
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