by J. A. Buxton
Chapters 26 thru 30
Gallia scowled at her father when she heard that insulting question. “What’s going on here, father? Who is the man?”
“He is your husband,” Toren answered, not looking at Gallia. “Or at least he will be by this evening.”
“If it concerns you, which it doesn’t,” interrupted the stranger, “my name is Radorn.” Dismissing Gallia, he turned to Toren. “Yes, she’ll do. Dress the girl in the garments I brought and bring her to my home. I want the ceremony done before the sun sets.” Not waiting for Toren to acknowledge this, Radorn stood and gave Gallia one last appraising look before leaving.
“I don’t understand.” Gallia was near to crying. “I’m betrothed to Wesler. Who is this Radorn, and why do I have to marry him?”
Toren had held his temper all through Radorn’s visit. He was furious that he had to humble himself before the wealthy aristocrat. He wasn’t about to allow his daughter, a mere woman, to question his decisions.
For two years, Toren had frequented the same gambling hall as Radorn, and Toren had done all he could to cultivate the man’s acquaintance. Everything changed when Toren began to lose at cards. It wasn’t my fault, thought Toren, while his daughter waited impatiently for an explanation. If my partner had lent me the money as I asked, I wouldn’t have had to steal it. My luck was sure to change soon, and I could have put it back before Hitzig was any the wiser.
* * *
Hitzig Ocnus was good at business, but he was a poor judge of character. When he opened a wine shop five years earlier, the business initially prospered. Because Hitzig spent most of his time building up the clientele and purchasing the inventory of high-quality wine, he failed to keep a close eye on the financial side of the company. He had hired and trusted his neighbor, Toren, to handle the bookkeeping, and Gallia’s father did it well for the first four years. Shortly into the fifth year of the business, Toren came to Hitzig and asked for an advance on his salary. When Hitzig had to refuse such a large amount, Toren embezzled the money he needed to pay off his gambling markers. Within weeks, creditors had come after wine shop’s owner for outstanding, unpaid bills.
Hitzig discovered the business was deeply in debt, and he soon lost everything. He wasn’t even able to take care of his sick wife. In desperation, he visited his son and made him promise to make Toren suffer for what he had done. Once Jorel reluctantly agreed, Hitzig returned home and smothered his defenseless wife while she was sleeping. He then wrote a long, rambling letter to Jorel about how cruel life had treated him. He finished with a reminder to his son of the need for revenge against the man who had ruined his life. After that, he lay down on the bed beside his wife’s corpse and drank one final glass of wine. It took less than half an hour for the poison in it to take effect.
After the double funeral, Jorel invited Devon back to his home. “I made my father a promise, but I might need your help to carry it out.” Origga had disappeared the previous week, and Jorel knew his best friend needed a distraction from the fruitless search for his wife. After hearing the plan, some of Devon’s despair faded.
That night, the two young men made their way to the gambling hall near Toren’s home. Both were excellent at cards, and over the next few weeks they took turns relieving Toren of any coins he still had. After that, and with the gambling hall’s owner looking the other way, Jorel began allowing Toren to gamble without having to put up the wagered amount first. To keep him coming back for more, every now and then Devon let Toren win back small amounts.
A few days before Gallia's kidnapping, a messenger delivered a sealed letter to Toren at his home. Once he was alone, Toren unsealed the letter and glanced down at the signature. He turned pale as he read the short message aloud. “I am calling in your gambling debt at this time. If I don’t receive the amount listed below in full by week’s end, I will contact the authorities.”
The signature at the bottom was Jorel Ocnus. Not once in the months they gambled had Jorel told the older man his full name. Seeing the amount he owed, much larger than he realized, Toren knew he did not have the funds to pay it. In this way, a horrified Toren learned of a son’s revenge. He also knew the law demanded full payment of all gambling debts. If none was forthcoming by the date required, the debtor entered prison. The city’s stone goal was a foul place filled with murderers and thieves, and Toren knew he wouldn’t survive for long in that building.
As soon as his terrified mind started working again, Toren remembered Gallia’s betrothed. He’ll save me. Wesler will advance me the coins to pay off this Ocnus whelp. With this thought came a sudden rush of relief. I’ll go ask him now and remind him of his family obligations when he marries with my daughter. Toren dressed in his finest clothes and headed across the city to the wealthiest section where Wesler lived. All during that long walk, he rehearsed what he would tell the young man.
Once the servant opened the front door and escorted him into a large living area, Toren forgot the words he planned to say. This was the first time he had been inside the fur merchant’s home, and the display of beautiful and expensive treasures in front of him caused him to increase the amount of coin he would want.
At the age of 23, Wesler had inherited a massive fortune with the untimely death of his father. Rumors at the time suggested Wesler had something to do with his father’s departure, but nothing was ever proven. Five years later, he had added to the amount through his shrewd and often underhanded business transactions in the thriving fur trade.
The man Gallia thought was boring hid his true unsavory character well. To those who didn’t know better, Wesler was a man only interested in exploring the marketplace for the newest pieces of art. What people noticed first were his large, pale-blue eyes, which were his only attractive feature. The rest of his appearance was unremarkable from his rapidly receding hair to the way his clothing hung on his too-slender frame.
When he smiled, as he was now doing at Toren, he was at his most charming. Holding out his hand in welcome, Wesler said in greeting, “Well met, Toren. This is indeed a pleasure. I’m counting the days until I wed your beautiful daughter.”
“As am I. Yes, as am I.” Toren tried not to show how nervous he was. “There is a slight problem, though.” He watched Wesler’s face closely as he explained. “I’ve run into a small, a very small, financial problem. I’m sure you wouldn’t mind helping out your future wife’s father.”
While riding back to his mountain home, Valen tried not to think about Gallia marrying another man. Unlike so many who thought they knew Wesler, Valen had seen through the young man’s unobjectionable façade. Years earlier, Valen had visited Wesler’s shop to purchase coverings for his marriage bed.
* * *
“Your wife will thank you for seeing to her comfort.” Wesler saw the young warrior was holding one of his expensive, black-beast furs. “Just imagine her lying naked and waiting for you underneath that.” He hurried to make the sale. “You can do anything to her without worrying about getting too cold to finish.”
Wesler missed Valen’s startled look when he continued, “Since you’re newly married, taking your wife on top of this fur might excite you even more. Can’t you picture her pale skin against this black fur as she struggles to get free from under you?” Wesler realized he had gone too far when Valen tossed the fur back on the counter.
* * *
Suddenly, the memory of taking Gallia the night before reminded Valen of the fur merchant’s lewd comments. What have I done? I’m no better than that bastard. He pulled on the reins and brought his horse to a stop. Somewhere off in the distance was the mountain where he could try to forget about Gallia. Behind him in the city, he knew the young woman would soon marry her betrothed. She has no idea what type of man Wesler is. She actually believes she’ll have a perfect life with such a gentle husband.
The cold night air of the desert made the horse tossed his head, impatient to return to his warm stable only a few miles away. The stallion rose up on his hind legs, fighting against the reins as Valen turned him back toward the city. After Toren went to prison for not making good on his gambling debts, Gallia won’t be able to escape her husband’s cruelty. Valen forced his animal to go faster while imagining Gallia no longer protected by her father. Jorel will have to wait until we figure out how to keep her from marrying Wesler.
It was just after dawn when Valen arrived at Jorel’s home. He jumped off his horse and hurried to the small building. After Valen pounded on the front door for a few minutes, Jorel finally opened it. Seeing the sadness on the other man’s face shocked Valen. “What’s wrong? What happened?” Valen pushed his way past Jorel and saw his brother sitting on a sofa while holding a large, brown pouch.
Jorel motioned for Devon to show Valen the contents before answering. “A messenger from Toren sent this over during the night.” When Devon began pouring dozens of coins onto the sofa, Jorel sat down heavily on a nearby chair. “I don’t know how or where he got the money, but my plan didn’t work.”
Earlier the evening before, Toren waited for Wesler to agree to help him. He knew the merchant wanted Gallia and hoped Wesler’s lust would work in his favor.
Toren handed the letter to Wesler and watched while he silently read it. Unlike Valen, he had failed to recognize the cruel nature in his daughter’s betrothed. “As you can see, I’m in a bit of a bind. Surely, your generous nature wouldn’t let anything happen to Gallia’s father, now would it?” Toren’s smile slipped when he saw Wesler shaking his head.
“I’m afraid, Toren, this changes everything.” Wesler handed the letter back and put a hand on the older man’s shoulder. “I can’t afford to have my good name ruined by your reckless behavior. Much as I adore Gallia,” Wesley slowly aimed Toren toward the front door, “remaining engaged to her no longer is in my best interest.”
Shocked at what had just happened, Toren soon found himself outside the merchant’s home. With Wesler’s words ringing in his ears, he frantically tried to think of another way to pay his debt. While he slowly walked back through the dark city to his home, he remembered a conversation he had one night at the gambling hall.
* * *
During a rare winning streak, Toren indulged in too much of the host’s free wine. He started bragging about his daughter to the stranger sitting at the table with him. “My Gallia is so beautiful that a man will become hard just looking at her. Her dearly departed mother, now forever with the Goddess Minua, was also such a beauty. All during our long marriage, I spent hours enjoying my wife’s luscious body. Gallia will provide her husband with the same joyous temptation, I’m quite sure.”
Seeing the man lean forward as if interested, Toren continued to describe Gallia. With each new glass of wine, Toren went into more detail about his daughter. He repeatedly mentioned Gallia was a virgin and would come to her husband innocent and undefiled.
“You indeed have a treasure. If only I could find a wife as pure as your Gallia.” Hearing the man say this, Toren nodded in agreement. By the end of the evening, Toren was too drunk to care if the sober Radorn was winning all of his coins. For the next few months, he began going to the gambling hall more often, hoping to see Radorn again. Soon the two men became friends, at least in Toren’s mind.
* * *
Halfway home, Toren suddenly thought of Radorn’s earlier comment about wanting to find a wife as pure as Gallia. Knowing he had no time to lose, he hurried back to the wealthiest section of the city where Radorn lived in his magnificent mansion.
Not long after Radorn left to return home, Gallia found herself standing beside him in a large, overly ornate living room. A bearded cleric smiled at her and then came to attention when he saw the Radorn’s arrogant nod for him to begin.
A loud cough behind her let her know Toren was standing there. Still in shock from the sudden turn of events, she heard him say, “Radorn, aren’t you forgetting something?”
“No, I have it right here.” Gallia noticed for the first time that Radorn held a large, brown pouch and could hear the jingle coming from inside it. When she saw him give her father what obviously was a bag filled with coins, Gallia realized it was the traditional bride price a groom gave to his wife’s family. With the exchange completed, she found herself legally bound to marry the stranger her father had chosen for her.
“My dear child, are you ready?” The kindly words from the cleric brought Gallia’s scattered thoughts back to the present. In a daze, she listened and made the appropriate responses during the short ceremony. When she felt Radorn pulling her against his body while pressing his dry lips to hers, Gallia finally understand she had married a stranger she only met a few hours ago.
While her husband was walking Toren and the cleric outside, Gallia turned to stare at herself in a large mirror hanging from one of the walls. Looking back at her was the reflection of a woman wearing a long, white gown. In order to kiss her, Radorn had pushed back the heavy, white veil she wore during the ceremony. She remembered the various veils Emonan had stripped off her only a day before and how Valen also preferred her naked. Will Radorn insist on seeing me that way as well? Gallia then shuddered at the thought of this stranger, a man who now was her husband, doing what Valen had done to her the night before.
She jumped when she heard Radorn’s voice close behind her asking, “Would you like something to eat before we retire for the night?” Gallia nodded, unable to get the words out. When Radorn placed her hand on his arm, she forced her feet to move and go with him into the dining room. Her fear of what was going to happen when they were in his bedroom had her unable to eat any of the delicious food Radorn placed in front of her. Too soon, her husband motioned for her to get up and follow him out of the room.
“Now, Gallia, I hope your father didn’t lie to me when he said you’re still a virgin.” Radorn entered his bedroom while saying this. Gallia once again was holding onto his arm. “Let’s get you out of those clothes first so I can see what you look like.” He turned Gallia to face away from him and began undoing the long line of buttons going down the back of her dress. “Oh, yes. You might do.”
Within minutes, he had stripped off Gallia’s beautiful wedding gown along with her delicate underwear. “I want you to get into bed and wait for me.” Radorn watched his young wife cross the room and slowly lie down on the large bed. Unable to wait any longer, he kicked off his shoes and hurried to join Gallia.
Half an hour later, Radorn was cursing at his frightened wife. “I paid an excessive amount of coin at Goddess Minua’s temple. Her all-knowing prophet promised marrying a pure woman would cure my impotency.” Not caring that his weight was crushing her and ignoring her tears, he remained stretched out on top of Gallia. He reached between their bodies and tried to push his flaccid penis inside her, once again without success. “Your father lied to me. You can’t be a virgin since it didn’t work.”
He finally rolled off her and stomped out of the room. He was furious at Gallia, her father, the doctor, and the rest of the world in general. Knowing only one way to get an erection, Radorn headed down the hallway to the small bedroom where the two household maids slept. Not bothering to knock, he slammed open the door and waited for the loud noise to wake up the women.