Getting out of the city isn’t nearly as difficult as it had been in the past. The city watch is out and about, but the actual soldiers on the wall are all half asleep. The more I came and went doing errands for my mistress, the more I am thankful that this wasn’t my home, merely the place where I recuperated between excursions.
Like so many times before I find cracks in the patrol route, and slip out the east gate, one of the more minor gated entrances, sort of like slipping out the back door of a tavern to avoid paying your tab.
Once outside the wall I circle around to the south. I know of a horse dealer who’ll provide me with a mount. The horses aren’t his, but he sells them anyway.
I reach his usual station, and he sits there, playing some ante game with one of his bodyguards. The other is holding a lantern, his gladius hanging at his side. I can hear a few nags neigh and whiny in the darkness behind them.
The rogue stands after winning the current hand, much to his bodyguard’s dismay, and turns to me.
“I think these guys let me win, they’re too easy to beat,” he states to me as he reaches for his pipe and smoking weed.
“I need the usual,” I reply, hopefully not too eager in tone. I feel like every second I bargain with this man is an eternity. I want to go, deliver this dispatch, and head back to my mistress. Her beauty floods my mind, and then my fantasies grip me for a few moments.
“The usual? Usual fee then, but I do have something special if you’re interested,” still holding his pipe, he grins. It’s evil and malicious, and even to an old vet like me, my blood becomes ice. My body reminds me of the cold steel I’m concealing all over my person.
“Show me,” I say flatly. I move my hands to my back and arch backwards, as though to stretch but I let my hands rest on my knives back there, ready to launch if need be.
He nods and disappears into the darkness, I hear some scuffling and he returns with a slight girl, barely into her eighteenth year, at most. She is dirty, her hair unruly, and barely even clothed, it looks like her peasant garb was torn from her body, then hastily put back on her. Her hands are bound in front of her, a rope runs from the bonds to her neck, then down between her legs, though a tear in her long skirt. It looks like the rope is pulled tight against her crotch. Her eyes are filled with fear, and it’s obvious she’s been crying hard and recent.
He grips her jaw roughly, lifting her face up. She struggles but makes no sound.
“Mute. Nice piece we’ve been showing around, I acquired her from a trader from the east.”
My stomach tightens. “How much?”
“For one this fine? Twenty Crowns should be sufficient,” he cruelly licks his lips.
“How much to buy?”
“She’s not for sale,” he replies, anger creeping into his voice.
“Fine, twenty crowns.”
The girl’s eyes go wide, they plead to me not to do this. Fear, shame, even loathing make their case in those beautiful eyes of hers. I reply to her pleas with an equally cruel grin.
“Merinos, go with them to make sure our property doesn’t get lost,” he says to one of his bodyguards.
“I can’t enjoy myself with another man watching.”
“Then I’ll keep your twenty, and you can have a nag and be on your way,” he spits back gripping her arm tighter.
“I’ll give you another twenty for the privilege of privacy,” I offer.
He stops, strokes his bumpy chin, he grins, his cruel, rotting teeth reflecting some of the light from the lantern. I am tense for several moments, I’ve slipped, I’ve let him know I’m packing a fair amount of coin, and I’m prime for robbing, especially if I’m with the girl at the time. He reluctantly agrees. I tell him to ready my mount, while I do the same to his. He laughs and agrees.
I grab the girl by her bonds and roughly drag her into the darkness. After I put a hundred or so yards between us and her captors I push her to the ground. Her mouth is moving silently a mile a minute. Her eyes are full of terror and tears, particularly so when I pull out one of my knives.
She closes her eyes, and lays extremely still, her legs slowly spreading before me, defeated, awaiting the assault of my sex. It’s an assault that won’t come. It takes her a moment to realize it, but her wrists are free. She looks at me questioningly. Reflexively I cover her mouth, overkill to be sure considering who she is.
I lean in close to her and whisper in her ear, “scratch my face.” She looks at me even more perplexed than before. I repeat myself more forcefully. She is trembling. She doesn’t understand. I move her hand to my face, her nails aren’t long like those of my mistress, rough, callused, definitely the hands of a peasant. I force her fingers to curve so her slight claws press into my cheek.
“Now, scratch my face,” I whisper even more forcefully, she closes her eyes and turns her head away and grants my request. If I’d realized it would feel like she were attempting to remove my face, I may have rethought this plan. I ask her if I am bleeding, I dread to think she’ll have to do it again if I’m not. She nods. I nod back, then inform her of my plan.
A few moments later I scream in agony. It takes but a few seconds for the two bodyguards to come rushing from the nearby brush. I am on my knees, clutching my face and my crotch, my leggings undone. “The whore scratched my face and kicked me in the groin when I tried mounting her!” I can’t see the bodyguard’s reactions with my face covered so, but the two split up to begin searching. I pull up my leggings and begin heading off to where the dealer is sitting counting his coin.
His back is to me and he’s cursing himself for not sending an escort with us. I look around and quickly find a sizable branch nearby. I creep up behind him and just before I am upon him, I step on a twig, and it snaps. Of all the rotten luck. I barely get my club in motion by the time he turns around, nailing him hard and firm at the base of the skull. He groans briefly and hits the ground with a sickening thud.
I spit on him and take back my coin, along with some extra. I unhitch my intended mount and smack it on the ass. It rears then charges off into the night.
“Your master is down!” I call back to the bodyguards. I can hear them shout something in reply, and as before, they burst from the brush and begin attending to their master.
“I have paid my money, and I must be away. He seems to have not readied my mount so I will do it myself. I will return the horse to you in a few days.” The bodyguards look at each other and shrug, resuming their attention to their master, still unconscious on the ground.
I ready my horse and head off about two hundred yards before hitching it, and then creeping back towards where I had been with the girl. The search for the actual location takes a while, and I make a soft birdcall. It is followed by the sound of two sticks banging together.
I smile to myself and put out my arms as the girl, like an angel falling from heaven, descends into my arms. She’s so light. I smile at her and make her cup her palm. I place a handful of Crowns in her outstretched hand and again tell her to head north, that there is a city there that will take care of her, particularly in her condition. I tell her to use the money to bribe the guards if need be, and to also acquire the services of a mystic, as they can speak for those who can not.
The young girl throws her arms around me, despite her slight frame, her strength is amazing and I can feel her squeeze the air from me. I can’t help but smile. She looks up at me, gratitude and joyful tears filling her face. I brush a few stray hairs from her face and kiss her forehead lightly.
As she goes her way, and I return to my mount, my mind is filled with thoughts of my daughter. If she had actually survived the plague, I have no doubt that would have been how she would have looked.