Now that Scarn’s shaken things up, what’s Ryun to do? Find out how their father reacts.
It was the first time Nera was alone — or, at least, aware of it — since her capture. She pressed her forehead to the raised arm of the couch and clutched her fingers to either side of her head. The tears stopped after only a short time, leaving behind an emptiness. Her body ached in new places but she couldn’t believe it was anything serious. She’d survive, in body if not in soul.
Why was this happening to her? Why had Buir forsaken her? Or had Buir been attacked by the gods of the sharif?
She was still kneeling on the couch when they arrived. Huddled under the cloak, she peeked up to see Miyn rush in followed by Aiden in a great sweep of light gray robes.
Aiden fell to his knees at her side, the sleeves of his robe falling back on his pale forearms as he reached to cup her jaw. She might have flinched but his striking beauty worked as a balm to her nerves. For some reason, he calmed her despite the worry lines that marred the fine arch of her brows. She saw obvious concern in his narrowed green eyes. “Nera, are you all right?”
She opened her mouth but didn’t know how to answer. She would not say she had been “all right” since she’d been taken from the temple.
After studying her face, Aiden didn’t wait for her answer. “Miyn, where did he touch her?” With one hand, he yanked the cloak down her body.
Miyn was at her other side, pulling it away. Nera felt gentle hands smooth over her bottom, gently parting it. “She’s not bleeding. He did take care to prepare her.”
“He took her ass? Gods.” Aiden scowled, shaking his head as his fingers tensed on Nera’s jaw. “I doubt Ryun will appreciate the nicety.” His attention returned to her face. “We need to get you out of here. Can you walk?”
Again she was unable to answer, a dry sob spilling from her lips rather than words.
With a curt nod, he quickly pulled the cloak back over her body. Gesturing for Miyn to step back, he urged Nera back onto her knees then lifted her into his arms, cloak and all. She was shocked at the strength in the slim arms that held her but chose to take comfort as he carried her from the room. His smell reminded her of fresh summer air and fragrant meadow breezes. She wrapped her arms around his neck as instructed and kept her face hidden in the hood of the cloak that Miyn arranged for her.
They returned to Ryun’s rooms without another word. Aiden set her on her feet at the edge of the sunken bath, keeping his hands close to steady her. “Can you stand?”
Eyes downcast, she nodded. Her legs were fine.
“You should bathe,” he instructed, removing the cloak from her person. “If there is pain, let either me or Miyn know and we can help to soothe it.”
She shook her head and kept her voice soft. “I’m all right.” The ache within her buttocks throbbed a little, but it was starting to fade.
He carried the cloak away. Miyn stepped up to release her sweaty hair from its knot atop her head while she untied the rope around her waist.
Aiden returned to stand before them, scowling. “How did this happen, Miyn?”
Nera couldn’t see the shorter woman who was still behind her. “He stopped us on the way to see Yosef.” Her voice was very quiet.
“You were just getting to that?”
“I-I wanted to let her sleep.” She helped Nera lift the green strip of fabric over her head. “She’s had a rough few days…”
“And now, thanks to you, it’s rougher.”
Nera glanced at the other woman as she stepped away but Miyn’s back was turned. “I’m sorry.”
“You can explain to Ryun.” He met Nera’s gaze and the ice in his emerald eyes softened a little. “Please, Nera.” He gestured to the warm water. “You’ll feel better.”
She doubted it, but she stepped into the water. If nothing else, she could wash away the sweat that coated her skin. As well as Scarn’s dried seed. The water felt wonderful.
“Where is he?” Miyn asked, keeping her face downturned as she knelt by the bath’s shelf of oils and unguents.
“He went directly to the Sharif.”
Ducking her head under water, Nera gulped, frightened that an incident involving her had been taken to the ruler himself. She doubted any good could come of that.
She missed what Miyn said next, resurfacing to hear the tail end of Aiden’s answer.
“….be angry. How could he not?” Aiden opened the doors of a small armoire. “What, exactly, did Scarn say when he took her?”
Miyn wrung a soft cloth in her hands. “He wanted me to watch. He wanted my lord to know how he took her.”
“Of course he did. And because she wasn’t branded yet, he was within his rights.”
Miyn whimpered. “I’m sorry, my lord. If I had known…”
Aiden stopped her with a wave of his hand. “I know, I know. Your heart was in the right place in letting her sleep. We should have had her branded immediately but he…” He shook his head, pulling a bare white shift from the armoire. “Nevermind. There’s nothing to be done now but wait.”
Nera was washing her hair when Aiden answered a knock in the anteroom beside the bedroom. Miyn knelt quietly beside the side of the pool, waiting on Nera’s needs.
Nera waded close enough to see the tense fear on the other woman’s face. “What will he do?” she asked, keeping her voice low.
With a glance toward the anteroom where Aiden was now speaking in low tones with what sounded like another man, Miyn swallowed. “I’m not sure. I’ll probably go to the guards.”
Nera recalled Scarn making that threat. “What does that mean?”
Miyn’s lips pressed together. “I’ll be given to a group of guardsmen for a time for them to do what they will with me.”
The gold around Nera’s wrist clacked softly against the bath tiles as she startled. “A group of them?”
“Will they…?” How could she say? Everything in this place seemed to be based on or around sex. If what Ryun and Scarn had done to her was considered pleasure, what would a punishment consist of?
Miyn almost met her eyes. Her gaze traveled most of the way toward Nera but halted at her shoulder. “Fuck me? Oh yes. Repeatedly and in many different ways. Depending on the group of men, a woman may never be the same again.”
Driven to console, Nera lay a wet hand on a knee bared by the short hem of Miyn’s dress. Miyn smiled sadly and covered the hand with hers.
Aiden returned in a soft rustle of robes, again frowning. “Nera, time to get out.”
Miyn stood to retrieve a drying cloth. “Is my lord returning?”
Nostrils flaring, Aiden stared at Nera as she started up the steps out of the pool. “No. We’re to take her to him. And the sharif.”
Nera froze, one foot dripping on the rim of the pool. “The Sharif?”
“Yes.” He bustled forward, clapping his hands. “Hurry, now. We can’t keep them waiting.”
* * * *
Aiden escorted Nera into the same or similar room to the one in which Nera had first seen the Sharif. Again she was led by a leash and covered with a floor-length cloak, but Aiden’s hand was not as heavy as Marken’s had been. Also, he walked beside instead of in front of her, guiding rather than leading.
The room was dimly lit, a number of candles burning in wall sconces around them. The men sat on pillows that surrounded the clear area where the glass contraption sat. Soft string music filled the air, played by musicians that were probably hidden behind the copious drapery that hid the walls. The sharif sat farthest from the door, holding a hose that extended from the center, smoke billowing around his head. He watched her approach, his rotund body draped in bright yellow silk that gaped open to reveal his bare chest. Fleshy bare legs crossed casually in front of him.
Only Scarn and Ryun were in the room with him. At least, they were all who could be seen. There could be others behind the thick hanging veils. Scarn sat not far from his father, at his leisure among the pillows. He was now bare from the waist up, a thick mat of hair making his chest one large shadow. His legs were stretched before him, his hands folded underneath his bald head. He turned to smile in her direction as she was led inside. Ryun was standing. Or, rather, pacing nearest the door. He wore a blue jerkin, tied loosely over his bare chest, above snug black trousers and shining black boots. His hair pulled back in a tail although many tendrils escaped, as though he’d pushed his hands through it. The red in his cheeks and the tension in his expression clearly showed his emotions.
As soon as they entered, he rushed toward them. Taking hold of Nera’s shoulders and standing in front of her to block her view of the room, he looked to Aiden. “Is she all right?”
“As far as I can tell, she’s unharmed, my lord.”
“Ha!” Scarn barked as Ryun held her head by the back of her neck and tilted it to get a better look. “I told you I didn’t break your new doll.”
Ryun scowled as he looked at her. In the bad lighting, his eyes were as black as Scarn’s and she finally saw the resemblance between them. She flinched, but that made his scowl deepen.
“You see, Ryun,” came the sharif’s rumbling baritone, “all has ended well.”
Snarling, Ryun snatched his hand away and spun about. “All is not right.” He stepped toward the center of the room. “He made free use of what is mine.”
Peeking up, Nera could clearly see Scarn’s evil smile. “Perhaps you should mark what’s yours.”
Ryun took a menacing step toward his brother. “You fucking bull sucker! I’m not having this stupid argument again.”
“Indeed, let’s not rehash this,” interrupted the sharif. A pile of pillows toppled as he shifted. “Bring the girl here.”
Ryun’s spine shot straight. “What?”
Nera could just see the gold rings flash on pudgy fingers as the sharif beckoned. “I said to bring the girl here.”
“I wish to see what prize puts my sons at each others’ throats.”
Ryun took a step back, obscuring much of Nera’s view of the room. “What’s put us at each others’ throats is that he seeks to take what is mine.”
“Wrong.” Scarn sat forward, elbows on his knees. “If I sought to take her, she would be in my rooms now. I only sampled her.”
“Enough.” Fat fingers snapped. “Here, Ryun. Don’t make me say it again.”
Nera clearly heard the echo of Scarn in his father’s words and swallowed. She couldn’t move and Ryun did not seem inclined. She didn’t expect Aiden to take her arm, lay a hand on her back and gently lead her forward. As they came abreast of Ryun, Aiden paused. The two men exchanged a glance over her head, then Aiden led her forward again.
Nera dropped her gaze but couldn’t help sneaking glances at the man they approached. He was bald but, unlike Scarn, he had a neatly trimmed black beard that lined the curve of his jaw and emphasized fleshy lips. His dark eyes matched Scarn’s exactly, making Nera wonder about Ryun’s mother, the source of his blue eyes. Aiden stopped a few feet in front of the sharif and dropped to his knees, taking her down with him. She descended gratefully to the carpet, ducking her head so the floor length cloak covered her.
“That is sufficient, boy. Up and take the leash and cloak with you.”
Since he’d not instructed her to rise, Nera remained on her knees, trembling despite the choking warmth of the room when Aiden removed the cloak from her back. She could feel three pairs of eyes on the bare skin of her back and mostly exposed buttocks. Aiden and Miyn had clad her in near worthless scraps of cloth similar to what she’d worn the previous day so much of her skin was on display. She could see her own breasts quivering as she shook.
“On your feet, girl.”
She rose as gracefully as she could, keeping her face downturned.
She saw the sharif shift closer, highly uncomfortable that the ruler of the land sat at her feet. “Lovely,” he mused. A rounded hand reached out to stroke her bare calf. “She is well formed but I see nothing particularly special about her.”
“Father,” Ryun barked, boots scuffing as he stepped forward, “this isn’t necessary.”
Nera cast her eyes sideways as the sharif edged yet closer. His fingers closed on one tie of the fabric that barely covered her sex. “But it is necessary,” he purred. A tug and the fabric fell away, exposing the curls of her mound to him, just about level with his face. She whimpered, clutching her hands behind her back as he extended a finger to trace the crease of her thigh where it met those curls.
Nera jumped as four men materialized from behind the hangings spread out along the back walls. None of the men were armed, but all were bare chested with muscles upon muscles. Nera would not have been surprised if they were giants of lore that she heard when she was a child.
“Be still, Ryun.” The sharif caught her shin, preventing her from moving away. “Behave yourself and I might let you have her.”
“You already let me have her.”
“And you were careless.” The sharif patted the outside of her thigh. “Come, girl.” He sat back in his pillows and patted a stone ledge behind them. “Come sit here.”
“Father, I won’t stand for this.”
The sharif’s attention focused on his son as Nera took the trembling steps necessary to obey. “I don’t see that you have a choice in the matter.”
As she sat on a sumptuous red and gold pillow, Nera chanced a glance at Ryun. He stood at the opposite side of the circle, steaming, fists at his sides. Aiden stood just behind him, eyes averted, a sad look on his delicate features.
“You just expect me to watch?”
The sharif turned his back to his son. “I don’t much care what you do.” He smiled at Nera as he lay soft hands on her trembling knees. “Open up, my dear.”
“Please.” She heard the whisper spill from her lips before she could stop it.
It made him pause. “Please?” he asked with an indulgent smile. “My dear girl, you needn’t beg.” He chuckled as he gently pushed her legs apart. “Not yet.”
Out of the corner of her eye, she saw Scarn scoot toward them, positioning himself for a better view. She bit her lip and leaned on her elbows when the sharif’s pudgy hand pushed her back. One of the hulking men remained just behind her, a menacing shadow just out of sight.
The sharif leaned toward her sex and drew in a deep, loud breath. “Oh, yes. An intoxicating scent, no doubt.” He slid one hand up the inside of her thigh and made her gasp when he drew that thumb through her wet folds. “And wet already?”
Scarn chuckled. “I believe she’s like that, father. She creamed when I took her ass too.”
“You took her…!” Ryun’s cry was cut off as Aiden grabbed his arm.
The sharif’s attention remained on Scarn, one brow raised. “Oh? It was her first time?”
“Must have been.”
His thumb still resting at her core, the sharif turned his torso enough to look at his younger son. “Was she wet when you first forced her?”
Ryun cut off a heated exchange with Aiden. “Forced her?”
“Let’s not mince words, Ryun. You couldn’t have taken her with consent. She wouldn’t have given it. Besides, her screams were heard.”
Nera winced, feeling a flush of shame redden her face and neck.
Ryun growled and started to move forward but Aiden caught his arm. The prince and his man exchanged more angry, hissing words that Nera couldn’t make out.
“Ryun,” the sharif snapped. “Answer me.”
Their heated exchange clipped short, Ryun faced his father, fists at his sides. “Yes. She was wet. And she came like a storm, despite her protests.”
The sharif turned back around, interest lighting his pudgy face. “Interesting.” His thumb pressed inside Nera and she couldn’t help the tremor that took her over nor the way her eyelids dropped low over her eyes. “Very interesting.” Without removing his finger, he settled lower, bringing his face closer to her core. “And we have more of these priestesses below?”
“No,” she cried, disturbed by the low rasp to her voice. “Please, my lord, please don’t do… this to them.”
The sharif smiled as Scarn leaned closer, intrigued.
“Are they like you, my dear?” the sharif asked.
She gasped as he shoved more of his thumb inside her. Even she could smell the rich scent that wafted up from her folds. “I-I don’t know what you mean.”
“Highly sexed.” He brought his other hand into play, pinching that tiny bud of trapped fire that lived between her thighs.
She cried out when her hips bucked.
He kept rubbing that spot, also rubbing her with his thumb from the inside. “Are they?”
“You know that for sure? You’re different?”
It was difficult to think with him massaging her like that. “I-I’m not different.”
“Then they are like you.”
“I don’t know,” she whispered, clutching desperately at the pillows beneath her as growing familiar fire burst low in her belly.
“Hmm.” Watching her face, he picked up the pace with his hands, rubbing her furiously, fanning that flame.
She cried out to the ceiling when that wash of feeling spread through her limbs.
“So very responsive,” the sharif mused calmly, withdrawing his hands. She looked down to see him lapping at the wet on his fingers. “Rich and delicious. Oh yes, I see what it is now. Tazim!”
He held her knees as another man stepped out of the darkness. This one was fully dressed in pale yellow and rich gold. He stopped at the lip of the sunken center of the room and bowed. “My lord?”
“Find every priestess from the temple this one came from. What god was it?”
She only briefly considered giving him an incorrect answer, but instantly judged that folly. “Buir.”
“Yes, Buir. Find every priestess from that temple and have them cleaned up and isolated. I wish to personally inspect each one. Understood?”
“Yes, my lord.”
“Father,” Scarn was sitting now just two arm lengths away, “I’d be happy to help with that inspection.”
The sharif’s attention was on Nera’s sex as he used two thumbs to spread her open. “I’m sure you would. We’ll have to see about that.”
“Father, no!” Ryun cried as the sharif bent forward.
But father ignored son. Nera whimpered, biting her lip when his tongue dragged through her folds. Unintentionally, she met Ryun’s gaze and the angry accusation she saw there scared her enough to look away. But the hungry lust she saw in Scarn’s eyes was not any better. Nor was the barely concealed lust she saw in the guards who ranged behind him. She recalled what Miyn had said about being sent to guards as punishment. She could well believe a night with such men could ruin a women. With nowhere to look, she closed her eyes and tried to tamp the fire that raced in her blood.
But she couldn’t. The sharif’s lips and tongue allowed her no quarter. He held her and speared her and ate at her and she cried and shook under the terrible heat. At one point, she fell back, clutching pillows, her back arching as wave upon wave of dark lightning seared through every muscle in her body, seizing them and rocking her. Even once she’d collapsed in a breathless, boneless heap, the sharif continued to lap at her, suckling and lapping until her body simply would no longer move.
At long last, the sharif pushed away from her. Since her eyes were closed and would not open, she only felt the retreat of the heat between her legs. A pat on her thigh. “Ah!” His satisfied sigh would have made her wince. “Yes. That was quite delicious.”
She wanted to move. She wanted to close her legs, all too aware that with him gone she was blatantly on display to the room.
“Father.” Ryun’s voice was strained. “May I take my possession back now?”
A flurry of movement. Nera managed to pull her legs together and rise to her elbows by the time Aiden reached her. She was profoundly glad it was him and not Ryun. He took care with the cloak and was gentle as he helped her to sit.
“However.” All movement paused and everyone’s attention turned to the sharif. The fat man sat back in his pillows again, one of the mouthpieces of the room’s central glass ornament at his mouth. He inhaled then exhaled a cloud of fragrant smoke before continuing. “You may not brand her.”
Ryun, still on the opposite side of the room, straightened. “What?”
Scarn sat forward, interested.
The sharif smiled. “You may take her but you may not mark her as yours.”
“But she is mine.” The words leaned more toward question than statement.
“No. You may have her as long as you can keep her.”
“Father, that’s unacceptable.”
The sharif took another puff of the strange pipe. “I could take her from your possession altogether. I’m sure Scarn would agree to my terms.”
Ryun’s hands fisted as Aiden helped Nera to her feet. Blue eyes fixed on her. “Fine.”
The sharif chuckled, then held out a hand as Aiden began to lead Nera past him. “Girl, what is your name?”
She couldn’t help how she huddled close under Aiden’s arm. “N-Nera.”
“Nera. We shall meet again, you and I. Meantime, I want you to be aware of your status.”
She felt Aiden tense.
The sharif continued. “The bonds you wear on your feet, ankles and neck mark you as a pleasure slave of the highest order. You command the obedience of women who wear only a leather collar.”
Like Miyn, she thought.
“The lack of a nobleman’s brand, however, makes you fair game to any man.” He cocked his head to the side, dark eyes bright as he held her gaze. “Any man in the palace. Understood?”
Her eyes went wide and she just managed to nod.
He smiled. “Good.” He sat back. “Choose wisely where you can.”