by J. A. Buxton
Chapters 11 thru 15
As soon as the sun appeared above the horizon, Valen made his way outside the harem’s tent. Most of the women followed him, but the sight in the compound horrified them. They quickly returned to the tent, all except for Gallia and Origga.
‘Watch where you step,” cautioned Devon. Since finding Origga in the tent, he had refused to remove his arm from around her waist. He failed to understand why she kept trying to avoid his loving embrace.
* * *
Before she fell asleep the night before, Gallia had moved the soiled blanket next to her new friend. The woman was trying to remain silent, but Gallia could hear Origga’s muffled sobs. “What’s wrong?” Gallia whispered. Realizing that was a dumb question to ask, she quickly added, “I mean besides having Emonan treat you like he does. It’s something else, isn’t it?” She moved even closer to Origga. “Please let me help.”
“You can’t. When he finds out, Emonan will order me out of the tent for his men to have.” Origga took one of Gallia’s hands and placed it on the cloth over her stomach. “Selene always pushes me behind everyone when a guard comes in for one of us.”
Gallia, although at 18 still an innocent virgin, immediately understood Origga’s condition. “Is it Emonan’s?”
“No, thank the Goddess Minua, it isn’t.” Origga appeared horrified at Gallia’s suggestion. “I found out the afternoon before the man kidnapped me. My husband, Devon, was away on a business trip, and I was going to tell him about the baby the minute he got home.” She began to sob while saying, “Now he’ll never know he was about to become a father.”
“They still might rescue us, so you can tell him then.” Gallia’s well-intentioned comment only made Origga cry harder. She suddenly understood her friend’s fears. “You’re afraid he’ll think the baby is Emonan’s and not his.” Seeing Origga nod, Gallia asked, “Your Devon is a businessman, right?” Again Origga silently nodded. “Well, unless he’s a total imbecile, he can count months. Again, am I right?”
Origga blinked when Gallia’s words began to sink in. “What if he doesn’t? Devon is a stubborn man, plus his emotions too many times get in the way of common sense. You do know a man can cast his wife out if he feels she has betrayed him. What if Devon does that before he realizes the baby is his?”
“Then he really is an imbecile.” Gallia made one final suggestion, made in jest, before turning back to her blanket. “Just keep your husband away from touching your body until you’re too big for him to throw you out on the street.”
* * *
Now Gallia watched Origga take the comment she had meant only as a joke to heart. While looking at the couple instead of where she was walking, she nearly tripped over a body lying in her path.
Valen, who was behind her, grabbed her arm. When he pulled her back out of the seeping blood, he gave her a rough shaking. “Didn’t I tell you to be careful? Where are your shoes?”
Gallia angrily yanked her arm free. “They’re back home underneath my bed, you stupid idiot. I decided to come here wearing only my nightgown since I figured Emonan would enjoy taking it off me.”
Everyone from the harem was ahead of them and had reached the edge of the campground. Gallia was so annoyed with Valen, she ran over the rocky ground to catch up with the others. She tried to ignore the pain this caused her bare feet. Without warning, she found herself swept up in Valen’s arms. “What are you doing?” she yelled, struggling to get down.
“I’m taking you to see your precious Emonan. I’d love seeing how long it takes him to strip you to your lovely skin again.” Valen ignored her shocked look. “Jorel saw you coming out of Emonan’s tent before.” He glared down at her and decided to match her lie with his own lie. “He said you strutted out into the compound, wiggling your naked ass at the men until you disappeared. How many men enjoyed your sweet body after that?”
Not waiting for an answer, Valen entered the larger tent where he had left an unconscious Emonan. At the sight in front of him, he dropped Gallia to the floor and let out a loud howl of fury.
His enemy, the man who had murdered his wife years earlier, was nowhere in sight.
Gallia climbed painfully to her feet. She had landed with a loud thump on her rear end, and she reached around to rub the bruised area. “Look what you did!” she grumbled when she noticed part of the dress’s left side was split in two along the seam. Origga’s dress was tight to begin with, and the rough treatment of landing on the floor was too much for the delicate material.
Valen ignored Gallia’s complaint as he frantically searched the tent for Emonan. Once he realized his search was fruitless, and still paying no attention to Gallia, he ran outside and began yelling, “The bastard got away again. Search the camp everywhere. Leave no stone unturned.” His men immediately took off in every direction, each wanting to be the first to find Valen’s escaped prisoner. Hakim had just informed them Emonan was the man who ordered the slaughter of so many of their family members years earlier.
Two hours went by, then three. At the end of those hot, dusty hours, as each warrior returned, Valen realized Emonan had escaped him one more time. With the afternoon heat increasing, he took one last lingering look around the compound. “Men, it’s time we returned home. Prepare the horses.”
He finally noticed Gallia standing silently in the shade of Emonan’s tent. “Woman, come here,” he ordered. When she stood in front of him, he saw the torn dress. “What happened? You can’t go around half naked like that in front of my men. Cover yourself before they see you.”
“With what?” Gallia glared at him. “You dumping me of the floor made it rip, so it’s up to you to find me something else to wear.” She almost took a step backwards when she saw Valen did not appreciate having a woman order him around. She straightened her shoulders and waited to see what he would do.
It was quick in coming. He looked around him until he caught sight of a ragged and filthy blanket lying in the dirt nearby. It was close to the body of a slain warrior. Earlier that morning, the men in Emonan’s army were sleeping peacefully in their tents when they heard the attack begin. This man had raced outside naked except for the blanket wrapped around his waist.
Valen first grabbed Gallia’s dress and ripped it off her, leaving her naked and silent in front of him. Before any of his men had time to see and admire Gallia’s body, Valen twisted the blanket around her. He made sure the material went from her shoulders down to her bare feet. “There, now you’re completely covered. Stop wiggling around, woman, and stay here until I get back.”
“It’s got bugs, and it’s harsh against my skin.” All Gallia wanted to do was throw away the blanket and scratch the itching bug bites. She saw Valen had once again forgotten about her and was heading across the compound. Wrinkling her nose in disgust at the blood-soaked dirt and the bodies beginning to bloat and stink in the hot sun, Gallia decided to go inside Emonan’s tent and find something cleaner and bug-free to wear.
Half an hour later, she heard, “Where the hell did you go, woman?” Valen burst inside the tent. His face was red from either the heat or anger at not finding Gallia waiting outside as he had ordered.
He came to a sudden stop when he saw her. Gone was the blanket, and in its place he saw the young blonde had found a long, satin dress. It had covered some earlier prisoner before Emonan forced her to wear the drab, brown garment of a concubine. Unlike Origga’s blue dress that never fit Gallia well, the brilliant-blue gown appeared to flow down over her many curves. Valen blinked a couple times before his sanity returned.
“Get back outside, woman. We’re ready to leave.” He grabbed Gallia’s arm and pulled her out of the tent and to a large, black horse. Without any warning, he picked her up and tossed her astride onto the wide, leather saddle. In a graceful leap, he got on behind her and nudged the horse forward.
Slowly, he led the way out of the compound back into the desert. Behind him, his men followed in a long line. Some of them rode double with the freed women, while behind them they left only putrid, decaying bodies.
The rest of the day passed in monotonous boredom. Frequent rest stops for the women slowed down the return to Valen's mountain. Most had never been on a horse before, and the jolting movement over the rough desert terrain had some of the women trying to hold back tears of pain.
With still more miles to go, and as the sun slowly slid below the horizon, Valen decided to make camp for the night. “Tully, hobble the mounts and make sure to feed and water them.” Valen gave these orders to the youngest of his warriors, Tully Bascombe, even as he dismounted. He reached up and dragged Gallia off the black stallion. Trying not to be too obvious about it, he lowered her slowly to the ground. He wanted to feel her body pressed against his as long as possible. Only Hakim’s chuckle behind him reminded Valen he wasn’t alone with the blonde temptress.
“Go start a fire,” he said harshly.
Not knowing if he was giving her this order, Gallia simply stood there swaying from exhaustion. She ached all over from the unfamiliar way of riding astride, and her beautiful dress was now wrinkled and covered in dust. She looked around her and saw Hakim was already busy lighting a pile of dried wood near a small group of stunted trees. She noticed some brown material behind the trees and realized she also needed some privacy to relieve her near-to-bursting bladder.
Refreshed, she soon joined the rest of the women around the roaring campfire. The night had turned cold, and only the men were comfortable in the wide extremes in the desert climate. Even though there were dozens of warriors searching out places to sleep, Gallia easily found Valen hovering nearby.
“Woman, come here.”
“My name isn’t Woman. I’m Gallia, daughter of Toren and betrothed of the fur merchant, Wesler. If you can’t remember my name, you must be stupid or an extreme lack wit.” Saying that, and not caring about the consequences, Gallia remained where she was sitting near the fire.
Valen couldn’t let her insult him like that, not in front of his men. He reached down and yanked Gallia to her feet. “I know your name, and it sticks in my gullet to hear it, never mind to say it.” Ignoring her protests, he dragged her to the edge of the makeshift camp. He stopped behind a high pile of rocks out of sight of his warriors. When he pushed her down onto the ground, he remained standing over her. “Much as I want to show you what happens when a woman disobeys a man, I’ll have to wait.”
Valen walked over to the rocks and sat down. He leaned back against them before adding, “If I took you tonight, you’d be too exhausted to ride tomorrow.” He grinned at the confused expression on her face. “My pleasurable ride between your beautiful legs will have to wait until we get back to my home.” With that, he closed his eyes and immediately was asleep.
Gallia took more time to fall asleep since she was imagining what Valen was going to do to her. Since the virgin wasn’t quite sure what Valen’s comment meant, Gallia didn’t know whether to dread or look forward to what he called his pleasurable ride.
Early the next morning, Valen and his men started out for the last few miles back to their home. Once again, he had Gallia ride with him and was silent for most of the trip. Time passed slowly with the sun getting hotter with each hour. The long line of horses passed across sand dunes, through scrubby bushes, and over small rocky hills.
A snake, startled by the unexpected invaders into its home, slithered out between the legs of a frightened horse. Only the quick and expert handling by the warrior kept the animal from bolting in terror. The snake, trampled underfoot by the four hooves, lay dead in the pathway of the other horses. Their nostrils flared and heads tossed at the smell of the reptile.
“Men, stay together in a single line.” Valen sharply called this out to his army riding behind him. They had arrived at a dangerous area known simply as The Death Bog. It was a wide swamp at the edge of the desert with only one narrow path through it to safety. Many unsuspecting riders now were at the bottom of the murky water. Their bones and those of their horses were all that remained of them.
It took another hour for the large group of horses to slowly make their cautious way to the opposite side of the swamp. One horse and rider did slip into the water, and only the quick action from a few of his friends pulling them out saved their lives.
Gallia watched the muck-covered animal find its shaky footing on the dirt path. “Valen, isn’t there another way to get out of the desert?” In response, all she heard was his grunt of disgust at the man’s carelessness in almost losing one of his valuable horses.
Once out of the swamp, the pace picked up until Gallia saw the shape of a high mountain off in the distance. It took another two hours to leave the desert and travel through a wide field of overgrown grass and spiky weeds. At the bottom of his mountain, Valen held back and let all his warriors along with the women go up the dirt road ahead of him.
When the last horse with its rider had disappeared from sight, Valen finally spoke. “When we reach my camp, you are not to talk to anyone. I will have Hakim find one of the women to escort you to my private rooms. You will stay inside until I come for you. The woman will provide a hot bath for you, and I expect you to clean any stinking reminder of Emonan off your body.” This was in a voice that allowed for no argument, and Valen immediately kicked the side of his horse to get it moving again.
As promised, Valen called over one of his men once they arrived at the top of the mountain and passed through the high gates. Within a few minutes, a slender female with long, dark braids came to where Gallia and Valen were standing. She stared at Gallia, as if at a lowly creature not worthy of her time, before motioning for the young girl to follow her.
The two women headed toward a small building near one side of the large, wooden stockade that surrounded the entire compound. The woman opened the heavy door. Once the woman left, still without speaking a word, Gallia walked inside Valen’s home. The main room was Spartan in its simplicity and lack of comfortable furniture. There was an unlit, stone fireplace taking up one side of the room, a small table with two matching chairs, and a fur rug from some large animal spread out in front of the fireplace.
Gallia noticed two doorways at the back of this main room and walked into the first one. It was clearly Valen’s bedroom, and she quickly backed out after seeing the large bed that almost filled the small room. Even thought he had left her alone the previous night, she knew from his comments she might soon lose her virginity in this bed. Not if I have anything to say about it, went through her mind, even as she knew Valen had the power to do anything he wanted with her.
A loud knock on the front door caused Gallia to hurry toward the sound. Before she could reach the door, it burst open and four men carrying large, covered pots came in. Ignoring Gallia and, in fact, averting their eyes to avoid seeing her, the men hurried into the second room in back.
Gallia was curious and peeked into the room to see the men pouring steaming water into a copper tub. When they left after setting some wood alight in the fireplace, again not looking at her, Gallia went into the room and stuck a hand into the hot water. She quickly stripped off the dirty, satin dress and stepped into the tub. Using a small piece of soap she found on a shelf next to the tub, she began scrubbing every inch of her body as Valen had ordered. Her long hair got its share of the soap and water, and soon the cooling water turned brown from all the desert dirt.
Once she felt clean and refreshed, Gallia stepped out of the tub and looked around for something she could use to dry herself. On the same shelf where she had found the soap was a towel made of wool cloth. After using it to partially dry her hair, she wrapped the material around her body.
Back in the main room, Gallia sat down in front of the fireplace and used her fingers to untangle the curls in her long, damp hair. Soon the soothing heat from the fire and the exhaustion caused by her adventures of the past few days had Gallia beginning to nod off. She lay down on the rug and quickly was sound asleep. The wool cloth slipped off her as she moved onto her back while she slept.
That was how Valen found her when he returned home two hours later. He silently closed the front door, and a fleeting smile crossed his face at the sight in front of him. As he slowly walked toward the fireplace, he was unable to stop looking at the naked woman asleep on the floor. Gallia lay there with her legs spread out on the rug, as if waiting for him to take his pleasure of her.
All he wanted to do was kneel between her soft thighs and relieve the heavy discomfort growing between his own legs. His hands reached for the waistband of his trousers.