by J. A. Buxton
Chapters 06 thru 10
Around dawn, an exhausted rider slowly rode his horse into a distant city. Dust covered both the man and animal from traveling for hours through the desert. “Only a little ways to go,” the man croaked, his throat parched from the dust and heat. Jorel didn’t know if he was trying to reassure himself or the tired beast. He leaned forward and patted the mare. “Zuzu, you did well today and can rest once we arrive.” He managed a small laugh when she tossed her head and snorted in reply.
Soon they reached their destination. After leaving Zuzu in the care of a young stable boy, the man headed toward his boyhood friend’s home. With each step, his exhaustion began to disappear since he was coming with what he hoped was good news.
* * *
The previous day, Jorel decided to take a short ride and eventually found himself in the wealthier section of the city. At one point he pulled Zuzu to one side when another rider passed him on the narrow road. Jorel noticed a rolled carpet strapped behind the heavyset man’s saddle. Why does he look so familiar? wondered Jorel, before memories from a few months ago rushed back.
Immediately changing his mind about going home, Jorel decided to follow the man. He had remembered seeing him in the neighborhood the day before the young wife of his friend, Devon, disappeared. Only a month after their wedding, Devon returned from a short trip to a neighboring city to find Origga gone. Despite Devon’s frantic offers of a reward for her return, weeks turned into months with no sign of his wife. His friends, including Jorel, could do nothing as Devon descended into a deep depression.
Thinking about the suspicious shape of the rolled carpet, Jorel wondered if the man had another helpless woman wrapped inside. “If you had anything to do with taking Origga, you won’t get away this time,” muttered Jorel, while trying to keep the distant rider in his sight. For the next half hour or so, both men made their separate ways through piles of rocks and small hills found throughout the desert. Because of these natural hiding places, Jorel found it easy to stay hidden from the stranger. Finally, the stranger disappeared when he rode down a steep hill.
Jorel pulled Zuzu to a halt at hearing the sound of men shouting and laughing. He climbed down and carefully crept to the lip of the hill. Peering around a large rock, what was in the large valley below shocked him.
Now back at his friend’s home, while taking long swallows from a large glass of water, Jorel stalled for time and looked around the cluttered living area. The room no longer reflected Origga’s pride in her small home. Hastily removed clothing hung on the back of two wooden chairs, and he noticed dust covering the surfaces of small tables scattered around the room.
In the corner, Jorel could see the loom on which Origga spent her days weaving beautiful cloth. Her husband would then sell these at the local market to supplement his meager income. Now, Jorel noticed the loom held some unfinished blue and red, stripped material. There was also a small pile of neatly folded cloth stacked beside the loom ready to go to market.
When Devon had given him the glass filled with cold water, Jorel saw even that showed neglect from Origga’s absence. The glass felt sticky, and there was a thin layer of residual wine left at the bottom. Under other circumstances, he would have refused to drink from such a filthy glass, but his thirst overcame his revulsion.
Jorel finally began to tell Devon what he had seen hours earlier. “I could see many uniformed men strolling around what was an army compound. The man I’d followed from the city removed the carpet from his horse and carried it into a small tent near one edge of the camp.”
“Yes, yes,” interrupted Devon, impatient to hear if Origga was there. “Did you see my wife anywhere?”
“Sorry, at first only the men were in sight. Well, I did see that man eventually come out of the tent without the carpet. He went into a much larger tent nearby, but only stayed for a few minutes before coming outside again.” Jorel took another long drink from the nearly empty water glass, before he continued. “I watched up on the hill for another half hour in case I could catch a glimpse of Origga.”
“Was she there?”
The hope on Devon’s face saddened his friend. What he had seen in the short time he observed the camp had him dreading what he still had to report. Better get it out fast to make it less painful for him. Jorel put down the empty glass and softly said, “I only saw two women. One old crone came out of the small tent leading a much younger one. This second woman had long, yellow hair and wore some red material. The older one brought the other to the larger tent, pushed her through the open flap, and immediately returned back the way she came.”
Jorel paused, dreading what he had to say next. “I was about to leave, when the blonde came out of the tent. She now was naked, and I could see she’d been crying. One of the men waiting outside the tent led her around the far side of that tent. At that point, I lost sight of her.”
Devon closed his eyes in pain, wondering if the person inside that tent had once treated Origga in the same way. Coming to a decision, he got to his feet and faced Jorel. “We must go to Valen’s stronghold and see if he and his men will go there and help me find my wife.” Valen was Devon’s older brother and a seasoned warrior of many battles. He lived halfway up one of the mountains on the far edge of the desert with his army of a hundred men and their families.
“Rest here, Jorel, while I arrange for fresh horses. Your Zuzu probably is too worn out to make a second long journey.” Even as he said this, he smiled. His exhausted friend was sitting upright in his chair, an empty glass in his hand, his eyes already closed in sleep.
One hour later, the two friends were heading out of the city, determined to find Origga, with or without Valen’s help.
Gallia wrinkled her nose at the foul smell coming from one side of the tent. When she walked closer, she spotted half a dozen tin buckets lined up against the canvas wall. Gallia could see and hear a buzzing mass of flying insects hovering in and around the uncovered buckets.
One of the women came to stand with her. “Our guards usually remove and empty them daily, but none have come in for three days.” She gently pulled Gallia away from the makeshift toilets. “Yesterday, Selene told us to start taking them outside, but the guards wouldn’t allow this.”
Selene joined them. In her hands was the offending dress Gallia had thrown at her. “You cannot remain unclothed. If by some chance, a guard does come inside for the buckets, he will see your nakedness as an invitation to rut with you. Once a man does that, the rest will soon follow his lead. We no longer will be safe in our tent, so I demand you cover yourself.” She thrust the dress toward Gallia.
Seeing the new concubine was again about to refuse, the woman who had joined Gallia at the buckets quickly interrupted, “Selene, she can wear the dress I stole back from Emonan the last time he…I mean, well, it is enough to cover her.” Without waiting for Selene to agree, the woman ran to the opposite side of the tent. She dug under one of the blankets and soon returned with a beautiful, floor-length dress of pale blue.
When she shyly handed it to Gallia, she said, “When the kidnapper took me from my home a few months ago, I was wearing this.” There was a note of pride in her voice when she added, “I made it myself.”
Gallia gratefully took the dress and pulled it over her head. It was quickly obvious the she was slightly more curvaceous than dress’s original owner. The material appeared stretched to its limit down to her hips, but loosened and gently followed her body the rest of the way to her bare feet. Her chest was where their different body sizes became the most apparent.
The low, V-shaped neckline, which was demure enough to cover most women, barely kept Gallia’s abundant breasts hidden. The tight material around her waist pushed them even higher to expose the soft, round flesh almost to her nipples. Gallia knew if she took a deep breath, one or both of her breasts would pop out of the neckline. She wiggled a bit to get the dress fitting more comfortably before turning to the two other women. “Selene, if you don’t mind, I prefer to wear this dress.” Next, she smiled at the other one. “Thank you for the dress. Are you sure you wouldn’t prefer wear it yourself? It’s very beautiful.”
Sadly, the woman shook her head. One of her hands went down to touch the front of the shapeless outfit she was wearing. “It no longer fits.” She offered no other explanation.
Once Gallia finished dressing, some of the other women joined her. The afternoon went by slowly, and the front of the tent became uncomfortable as the heat from the sun came in through the open entrance. One by one, the women made their way to the back of the tent where it was cooler.
The woman in the shadows lying on the blanket finally stopped moaning in pain, and Selene walked over to check on her. “One of you, go see if there’s a guard outside,” she called out. “Nardi was too weak to survive last night with Emonan.” She frowned when nobody headed for entrance. Instead they began a loud keening over the death of their friend. “That’s not helping, ladies. She won’t keep for long in this heat, so we need a guard to remove her body.”
When nobody paid attention to her, Selene shook her head in disgust and strode to the open front area herself. The dry heat as she stepped outside hit her face like a clenched fist. The long, brown dress immediately stuck to her skin, and she could feel her body starting to turn damp from rivulets of sweat.
A guard walking across the compound spotted Selene and ran toward her. “Get back in your tent,” he yelled. “You know the commander ordered all of you to stay inside until he has a need for a woman in his bed.” He stopped a few feet away from Selena and waited for her to go back inside the tent. “Well? Why aren’t you moving?”
Selena put her hands on her hips and glared angrily at the man. “There’s a dead woman inside, and I need you to take her out and bury her.”
“Not me. We also got orders about all of you. Take one step inside, and the commander said he’d happily turn us into a eunuch.” The man violently shook his head. “No thanks. You can bring the body out yourself and leave it right there.” He pointed to a spot just a few inches from the front entrance.
Selene sneered at him. “You’re a coward. Be sure to bury her as soon as I bring her out.” With those parting words, she went back inside the tent. A few minutes later, she and another woman carried Nardi’s body outside and gently placed her on the ground.
The guard kicked Nardi in the ribs before saying, “Yeah, she’s dead all right.” Grumbling all the while, he picked up the body, slung it over one shoulder, and walked away from the tent. He yelled back at the women, without bothering to look around, “Get back inside before anyone catches you outside.” He made his way behind a nearby hummock where there were already the bones from other dead concubines. Once he knew the women no longer could see him, he let the body unceremoniously drop onto the pile. Finally, he nudged some of the bones on top of the corpse. “Woman, don’t you think I’m such a good soldier? I even buried you with your friends.” He laughed uproariously at this and swaggered away, while saying to nobody in particular, “Yup, I really am good and gave her a right fine burial.”
Jorel and Devon soon reached the bottom of the steep mountain and failed to see the four men guarding the road leading upward to Valen’s stronghold. They passed unchallenged only because the guards knew Devon from his previous visits in the past. The two men started their horses up the twisting and turning road, unaware of the four swords drawn to attack them before the guards recognized Devon.
Jorel peered into the thick forest on the right side of the wide pathway, “How long has your brother lived here?” As the horses made their way higher up the mountain, the young man nervously tried to avoid looking to the left. A steep cliff fell off only inches from the dirt road. If Jorel had dared look down, he would have seen miles across the arid desert located far below.
“Val married Anaya, the daughter of the original owner, almost 15 years ago.” Devon, despite his worry about his own wife, smiled at the memory of the young, innocent woman who was his sister-in-law for such a short time. “They were married only a few weeks when a band of desert warriors attacked the unguarded camp. Anaya died when one of those men ran her through with his sword.”
“What did your brother do?” Jorel, although curious about Valen’s retaliation for his wife’s murder, suddenly gasped at the sight in front of him. He failed to hear Devon’s answer and pulled his horse to a stop. “This is your brother’s home?”
“Amazing, isn’t it?” Devon had visited his older brother many times, but the fortified stockade surrounding the many buildings hidden behind the high, stone wall always impressed him. At the end of the road there was a large entrance leading inside. Above the closed wooden doors, Devon saw armed men standing high up on a walkway inside the stockade. “As you can see, the camp is no longer unguarded. By the time Anaya’s father died a few years ago, Val had brought his army here along with their families.”
Jorel looked over at his friend, surprised at hearing this. “You mean there are women and children inside?” Once again, he didn’t hear Devon’s answer when his attention returned to the closed entrance. Slowly, men inside the camp pushed open the two wide doors until the opening was the width of the dirt road in front of them.
A loud shout from inside caused Devon to laugh, something he hadn’t done since Origga’s disappearance. “Hail, Val! I’d recognize your ugly voice anywhere.” He kneed his horse to get it moving, and he and Jorel headed between the open doors. Once inside, Devon dismounted and immediately winced when he felt Valen pounding his back.
“Welcome, brother. It is good to see you again.” Valen looked over at Jorel, someone he had never met before. “Is there a reason you brought a stranger here?”
Although his brother’s question sounded rude, Devon understood the reason behind it. Valen allowed few strangers into his fortress. Following the death of his wife so many years ago, he had sent out riders to find the men who attacked the unguarded camp. It was as if the murderers disappeared into smoke.
Fearing they would return, even after all these years, Valen had given one order to the men guarding the bottom of the mountain. They were to put to death any stranger who attempted to ride up the dirt road. Jorel had no idea how close to death he was earlier. Only the guards recognizing Valen’s brother saved his life.
Fearing Jorel might take offense at Valen’s abrupt question, Devon quickly answered, “This is my good friend, Jorel, and he might have located Origga. At least we hope so, and we need your help.”
While Devon was telling his brother about why they needed him, Jorel remained silent and simply watched the older man. Valen was taller than he expected since Devon was of only average height. His brother was taller by at least six inches and radiated dangerous power from his slender, muscular body. Dark-blonde hair surrounded a face all angles and shadows, while Valen’s piercing, moss-green eyes stared intently at his brother.
When Devon finished telling him what Jorel had seen miles away in the desert, Valen nodded once. He then turned away from the two younger men and gave a sharp whistle. Immediately, a stocky man ran to join the three of them. Hakim was Valen’s second-in-command and had been silently standing a few yards away.
“Hakim, have the men ready their horses for a long ride,” ordered Valen. “Tell the women to prepare food for a trip that might last for days.” He watched Hakim hurry toward the longhouse on one side of the compound.
It took only an hour for the women to pack food into leather bags and give them to their sons and husbands. The sight of lethal swords and knives strapped around the men’s waists had more than one woman trying to hide her tears. Mingled with the loud shouts of the men preparing once more for war was the whinnying of their excited mounts.
With Valen in the lead, Devon and Jorel following close behind, the entire army of warriors departed the compound. Two by two, the large group made their way down the steep mountain. Behind them, they left only weeping women and small children. Ahead of them, they would either die or cause the death of their enemies.
Back inside the harem, the rest of the afternoon passed uneventfully. With the coolness of evening descending on the compound, the guards brought more tin buckets to the front opening of the tent. They contained the concubines’ one meal of the day consisting of some biscuits and one container of tepid water for drinking.
Gallia looked inside one of the buckets and grimaced in disgust. “There are bugs in the food.” She took out one of the biscuits and shook it. This made the bugs crawling on the outside fall off onto the floor, but two more only poked their heads out and disappeared back into the barely cooked food. “No wonder all of you are so slender,” commented Gallia, who had noticed how thin the other women appeared.
Ventu, one of the women nearest the food, grabbed two biscuits and stuffed one into her mouth, bugs and all. The crunching sound she made while chewing didn’t seem to bother her. Even with her mouth full of bugs and biscuit, she managed to say, “This is all we’ll get today, so better take one before they’re gone.”
Within minutes, all the buckets were empty. Still hungry and knowing there was nothing they could do about this, the women made their way to the opposite side of the tent. They each sat down on a blanket until only the one where Nardi had died remained empty.
“Take that one,” ordered Selene, motioning Gallia toward the bloodstained blanket. “Just flip it over.” Not watching or caring if Gallia obeyed her, Selene stretched out on her own bed and closed her eyes. One after another, the rest of the women did the same. They knew sleeping or remaining quiet was the only way they could retain whatever strength the meager allotment of food gave them.
Even as she reversed the stained blanket, Gallia muttered, “If he wants my body tonight, at least I’ll get to sleep on something clean.” Eight o’clock came and went without a guard coming inside to escort her back to the commander’s tent. She began to believe Emonan had forgotten about her, at least for one night. Eventually, Gallia fell asleep after restlessly tossing and turning for over an hour.
It was nearing dawn when all hell broke loose outside. The horrendous sounds of men screaming in pain, horses snorting, and metal crashing against metal woke the women. When Gallia and the rest hurried to their tent’s opening, they at first saw only flashes of light in the distance. The compound was in near darkness except for the dim light from the setting moon.
Every now and then, a flickering oil lamp inside Emonan’s tent cast dark images on the canvas wall a few yards in front of the harem. The frightened women saw shadows of two men fighting, and they could hear the sharp clanging when one sword met the other. Finally, they watched one shadow sword lifted up high in the air. The taller of the two men held it, and they saw the shorter man quickly fall to his knees. He appeared to grovel in front of the other man, supposedly pleading for his life. The sword’s shadow dipped lower until it appeared aimed at the other’s chest.
Meanwhile, the battle in the dark compound continued. The fighting only slowed when his men saw Valen leave the large tent. Covered in his enemy’s blood, elated at finally finding the coward who had killed his wife years earlier, Valen planned to take a slow, painful revenge. He had left Emonan unconscious inside the large tent, but still alive.
For now, Valen was content to wait until his well-trained warriors finished slaughtering his enemy’s smaller army. This didn’t take long, and soon corpses lay scattered throughout the campground. With the uneven fight over, Valen ordered his men to take the horses away from the carnage and the strong scent of blood.
Devon hurried over to his brother. Before the fight, Valen ordered him and Jorel to stay safely behind a small hill near the compound. Despite objecting at first, they finally gave in to Valen’s fierce command. “Are you wounded?” Devon asked his brother, turning pale at the sight of the blood dripping down Valen’s right arm.
“Not mine. It belongs to that bastard waiting inside his tent to die.” Valen’s grim look contained a promise of a lingering death for that man. He saw his brother understood his meaning. “He’ll keep. Let’s go see if we can find Origga.” By now Jorel had joined them, and the three of them headed toward a tent inside which they saw several women.
All Emonan’s concubines huddled together while watching the men come toward them. Gallia stood in the back of the group and heard a woman cry out. It was the one who had lent her the beautiful dress. She watched one of the men come inside and make his way through the crowd of females until he reached the woman who had called his name. Gallia watched him take the woman into his arms and heard the man’s soft, “Origga, my sweet wife, I never gave up hope.”
All around the embracing couple, the women began to realize their days of captivity were over. Even the young blonde, enslaved for only one day, felt a sense of overwhelming relief. She finally admitted to herself how much she dreaded the inevitability of Emonan taking her virginity.
Gallia reluctantly looked away from Origga and her husband to watch two more men come inside. She quickly ignored the younger one when she saw the tall, blood-stained warrior. No man should be that handsome, flew through her mind. When he looked her way, she could feel her face flushing. Did I say that out loud? Embarrassed, Gallia turned away from the man and moved closer to the nearby women.
Standing just outside the tent, Valen had enjoyed seeing the tearful reunion of his brother and sister-in-law. When he and Jorel came into the tent, the remaining concubines greeted them. All were asking questions at the same time. For a few minutes, he listened silently to Jorel explaining what had happened in the last few hours. Curious to see where Origga had lived for the last few months, Valen glanced around the barren tent. A couple oil lamps barely held back the darkness, and all he could see was the nearby group of dark-haired women. They all appeared half starved and dressed in ugly, floor-length dresses. All except one, that is.
Valen couldn’t stop looking at the blonde woman standing only a few feet in front of him. He took a few more steps closer so he could see her better. His gaze went from her blushing face down her shapely body, taking time to admire each curve. He paid particular attention to the roundness of her breasts peeking out from the low neckline. While he lingered there, he began to smile when he noticed her nipples start to push against the thin material. Unable to resist and forgetting the people surrounding them, Valen reached out and pushed the V-shaped neckline away from one of Gallia’s breasts.
“What is your name?” he asked, staring down into the young woman’s surprised eyes. Even as he asked this, his fingers found their way underneath her breast. When he took the soft flesh in his hand, the unexpected lust he felt shocked him. As a teenager, he learned how to please a woman, taught by his father’s youngest concubine. All his adult life, Valen found women eager to share his bed. Therefore, simply because the woman had a beautiful body was no reason for his painful, rock-hard arousal.
“You asked what my name is. I’m Gallia.”
Valen had forgotten his question, but nodded at hearing her shy answer. All he wanted to do was have mad, hot sex with the beguiling creature whose breast he was still holding. He heard an amused chuckle behind him and finally remembered they were in the middle of a crowd of people.
Slowly removing his hand from Gallia’s body, Valen took a step away from her. Soon, he promised himself, even as he turned to glare at Jorel. Soon, Gallia, you’ll scream from the pleasure I can give you. Once I have you all alone and lying naked underneath me, I’ll...
His fevered thoughts stopped mid-sentence when he suddenly remembered where he had heard the name Gallia before. Jolted out of his sexual fantasy, he knew her screams probably would not come from any pleasure he gave her.
Story continued in next segment.