Wyl was again trying to decipher the actions of the man who now owned
Or “Hassan,” if I were free.
He’d figured out another mystery of the desert language and customs. Hassan is for freemen, Haseid for slaves.
After leaving the shoemaker’s shop, Haseid had led them through the dusty and colorful streets of Tandir to yet another small merchant stall. This time, it was a clothier’s shop.
This merchant was an attractive woman with bountiful curves and a round face with full, plum-colored lips that seemed fixed in a permanent smile. Her curly red hair was bound tightly to the top of her head, and her fingers were thick and calloused from her work. She had poked and prodded as she’d measured him while ignoring each of his fiercest frowns and growls.
She had paid more attention to Haseid, who was standing patiently nearby. She had chattered and laughed while making a show of measuring him
with her eyes.
Haseid had turned as red as if he had been chained in the open sun for days. He had stuttered and stammered short, quick responses that had made the woman laugh more.
Wyl had had his share of forward women, and he’d never been one to be put off by the swell of round hips. Still, it was obvious Haseid lacked the desire and perhaps even the skill to play her game.
The more overt her signals, the deeper the shades Haseid had turned.
A small fissure of irritation had crept down Wyl’s spine as the bold flirtations had continued. It was embarrassing to watch such a poor competition.
He’d hoped she was a better seamstress than she was a seductress.
When she had finished her measuring, she had flounced to the back of her shop, making a point to exaggerate the swing of her hips.
Haseid had been almost purple.
Wyl rolled his eyes, glad the show was over. He studied Haseid as the man buried his face in his hands.
“Haseid?” The question slipped out.
Haseid dropped his hands and his gaze locked with Wyl’s.
Wyl was suddenly struck by just how dark and captivating his Haseid’s eyes were. They were a deep, rich, charred color that matched perfectly with his smoky voice. They were also expressive.
Haseid would be a man too easy to read in battle. In those eyes Wyl could still see embarrassment, and yet they were also wide with surprise. Surprise at the question?
Make that two of us.
Haseid gave him a tentative smile. “Ya. Good.”
Wyl snorted and turned his back to Haseid. Another small burst of irritation crackled down Wyl’s spine. Why should he care what Haseid was feeling? Let the minx come back for round two.
He heard Haseid’s loud sigh behind him.
Wyl wasn’t sure how long they stood that way. It was time enough for the chains around him to begin to feel twice as heavy, and he was tempted to let his shoulders sag. Still, he had stood watches for greater durations, and he forced himself to keep his spine straight, head up, chest out, and back firmly turned away from the other man.
Eventually, the minx did return. She carried with her two tunics and two pairs of leggings.
One tunic was a rich blue and the other a deep brown. One pair of leggings was white and the other tan. The colors were vibrant and even.
She set the new clothes to the side on a small counter, then pulled the blue tunic from the pile. She held it up to Wyl, pressing it to his chest to test the fit. It was longer than the one he currently wore. It rode down to almost his knees. It also had sleeves similar in style to Haseid’s tunic. They were long, fully covering his arms, and loose fitting.
The shirt was also made of finely spun cloth.
Once again Haseid was purchasing only quality items for his slave.
Why? Why is he dressing me so finely?
He turned round to look at Haseid, who was now chattering excitedly with the minx. Haseid practically glowed with satisfaction. A terrible thought suddenly sent shivers of a different emotion down Wyl’s spine. He quickly backed away from the seamstress.
“Bindi?” Haseid’s eyes were narrowing in confusion.
“Takesh!” Wyl spat as the answers became clear in his mind. There was only one reason to dress a slave up so richly.
The takesh was to make Wyl some part of a brothel. This Haseid intended to get a return on his investment in finery by selling his bindi’s ass and mouth to the highest-paying customer. “I’m a not a whore! I’m a highborn. I’m first in my father’s forces. I will not
be sold and passed around to be used like a public shit hole!”
“Bindi!” Haseid shouted, moving toward him.
Wyl stepped back. He might not be able to hurt the man who’d bought and cursed him, but Wyl didn’t have to just accept his touches. The minx quickly sputtered a question, and for once she was not laughing or canting her hips in flirtation.
“No.” Haseid shook his head.
Wyl narrowed his eyes, staring at the woman. He wondered if he could hurt her or if he’d feel the fiery pain in his loins.
Despite the shackles, he could move with alarming speed and grace if he pushed himself. He was still a warrior. He had been trained to fight from almost the time he could walk. He drew on those hard-won skills as he suddenly pounced on the merchant woman.
Quickly he seized and grabbed her from behind. He draped his chained arms over her neck and wrapped a powerful hand around her throat. He squeezed. There was no crippling pain in his groin.
“Bindi, na!” Haseid’s eyes were wide in full panic.
“I am no whore! And you will
release me. I’ve seen you work your magic. Remove these chains and bindings.”
Wyl wasn’t sure how much of what he said Haseid actually understood. Although he was sure Haseid was smart enough to figure out what he wanted.
Haseid stepped forward.
“From there!” Wyl was not fool enough to let Haseid get too close to him.
The woman moaned, and he squeezed tighter. The minx’s moan abruptly stopped, and she began to flail.
Haseid held very still.
Wyl used his head to gesture at his chains.
“Off!” He rattled the chains on his cuffs without easing the hold on his hostage’s throat.
“Wyl, na.” Haseid’s eyes were now pleading.
Wyl squeezed again, and the woman’s face began to discolor. He had neither the desire nor the intention to really harm the wench. However, he needed to convince them both he did.
Her struggles lessened.
Haseid paled, and he began to babble.
Wyl gestured toward his chains again. The woman’s pulse was steady beneath his hands. Yet, he wouldn’t be able to hold her throat tight much longer if he wanted it to stay that way.
Haseid closed his eyes.
Even from across the small expanse of the shop, Wyl could feel the stir of magic around him and the chains. The bindings began to shift.
Wyl bit back a yelp of victory and eased his hold.
The minx gulped down a large breath of air.
A thin line of sweat began to form on Haseid’s upper lip, and the locks on the metal cuffs began to open. The chains fell away to clattered to the floor.
The woman’s eyes widened as she focused them on Haseid. “Magi,” she whispered.
Haseid looked pale and shaky.
Wyl took comfort in Haseid’s distress. He only wished he could have done more to the man. When Wyl was free of his bonds, he pushed the seamstress at Haseid.
You wanted him. You can have him.
The shaky man reached to catch the woman, but he was weak and unstable. She was voluptuous and terrified. They both crashed to the floor in a heap.
Wyl quickly spun around, dashed through the door, and sprinted out into the city streets of Tandir and freedom.
THE WOMAN STRUGGLED to her feet and turned to help him. “Magi…” she began.
He cut her off, “Hassan is fine.”
“Yes.” He sighed as he slid the sleeve of his robe up to reveal the brand on his arm.
The woman gasped, nodding.
“Please, I need to find Wy— my bindi.”
“Yes, of course, Magi,” the woman said as she stood, offering her hand out to him.
“I am sorry for what he did to you,” Lysander said as he grasped her hand. “He is new to our lands. He does not understand. He is scared, I think.”
She held fast as he pulled against her while wearily climbing to his feet.
“Magi, he is an escaped bindi who has assaulted a free person.” She was apologetically firm.
“I know.” He nodded, staring at the chains piled on the floor.
The woman moved quickly to the door and then began to ring the bell on her threshold.
He looked at her in panic. “That will summon the city guard. There’s no need. He’s root bound.”
“Your bindi must be found.” Her voice was gentle, without any of the teasing tone she’d plagued him with earlier.
“He will be punished!” Panic gave way to something else. Guilt and concern collided inside choking him, hurting his chest.
“I am sorry, Magi,” she said as she continued to ring the bell.
Wyl, what have I done?
* * * *
The bell began ringing shortly after Wyl ran from the shop.
Must be some sort of alarm.
He forced more speed into his legs and kept running through the twisty streets of Tandir. He didn’t really have a plan other than escape. He would not be a whore for the takesh who’d cursed him. I will die first.
Still, he did not speak the desert language; he did not know the city, had no weapons and no idea of where to go. He ducked behind some barrels in a narrow alley and caught his breath. He had to think. He was too well seasoned to be driven into a blind rush to battle. Strategy was the mark of a well-honed warrior.
He forced his lungs to take slow, measured breaths.
Think! What do you know?
He’d arrived in Tandir by ship. Perhaps if he could locate the docks he could find a ship for his homeland. If so, he might get help from his brethren, those who spoke his language. Cautiously he stood. He looked up and down the alley where he hid. There was no one. He scented the air, trying to catch a hint of the sea. Nothing. He growled softly. Apparently, the fates would not make it that easy. He sighed and began to move toward his left. The alley opened into another bustling street. The traffic was flowing mostly north.
He stepped out into the street and mingled with the crowd, moving with the traffic. He kept his hood up to cover his blond hair and kept watch around him as best he could.
As he walked, he continued to scent the air. He could only smell the rich perfumes and spices he’d come to associate with the desert people. He hid his disappointment behind his scarf and kept moving.
It didn’t take long to realize the street was going to dead-end at the city walls. His palms itched for a blade, and the hairs on his nape stood up. If he kept on this path, he would make it all too easy for his pursuers to corner him.
He scanned for signs of a cross street. A large grin bloomed behind his scarf as he spotted one running west. Carefully he threaded himself through the crowd of bodies, weaving and dodging between them, cutting over to follow it.
He began to breathe easier until he realized this street was leading him to a guarded exit from the city.
Ancestors! Have I already been abandoned to the abyss?
He turned his head to the right and then to the left, looking for another avenue of escape. He spotted another cross street. He pulled the scarf tighter across his face and his robes tighter across his body. The hairs on his arms were now raised.
He went through the next cross street and entered another street, heading back south. He paused for a moment, and his heart raced.
He’d caught the briny smell of the sea. He closed his eyes and focused. Yes, it was definitely the familiar smell of fish and brine-soaked wood of the tall ships. However, it was to the west of him. Swiftly as he dared without drawing attention, he began to scurry down the street until he found an avenue leading him toward the late-afternoon sun.
It was a force of will to keep his gait a fast walk instead of a run. For the first time since his nightmare began, there was a chance he could wake up from it. If he made it to the docks, if he found a way home, he had a chance to regain his father’s acknowledgment.
The smell of the sea grew stronger, and he could make out the masts of ships in the distance. His pulse quickened as his pace increased. I will be free!
He tore the scarf from his face, breathed deep, and inhaled the familiar smell of the docks. The hairs on his neck and arms relaxed.
He wore a smile that was neither forced nor ironic. He practically hummed as he scuttled toward the docks until the first pain began to flare in his groin.
Too much sudden exertion after so much captivity.
He tried to ignore the hurt as he moved. Yet the closer he traveled toward the sea, the stronger the ache grew. It was the same fiery agony he’d felt when he’d tried to attack the takesh. “No!” He groaned as the pain intensified. “No!”
He fell to his knees, fire consuming his groin. The tide of traffic stilled as people stopped to stare.
The tall masts were torturously close, yet impossibly far away from where he lay in the dirt, grabbing his groin. He was burning up. “No!” He heard the sound of running feet. “Damn you to the bottom of the frozen lake of hell, you desert devil bastards!” he screamed as arms tugged at him. City guards dragged him to his feet, and still he burned.
He looked up to see Haseid’s hated face. He spit in it.
Pain exploded in the back of his head.
He fell back to his knees.
“Na!” He heard Haseid shout.
Wyl shook his head, trying to clear his suddenly blurry vision, and the agony became blinding.
A hand touched his shoulder. The fire in his groin disappeared. The pain in his head did not. “Ta ne’ma, bindi.”
He heard Haseid’s whisper just before the world went dark.