Cascade Falls – Part Five
Trigger warning: graphic sexual content and violence
Morning light trickled through leaves and dispersed what was left of the night. Wierna and her guards crouched low, spying on a clearing just ahead of them. Large bushes concealed them from sight. Bandits camped here, their fires low and more than a few proving that their stomachs were weak wineskins. Many of them bore rusted armor and brandished weaponry that was hardly suitable for combat. One caught Wierna’s attention: he was large, and his dark eyes discerned with a wary intelligence, a lust for violence stirring beneath. His black beard twisted in a tail to his chest, and as he spoke, it dangled to and fro. Though his armor was the same as the rest, his sword was a different matter: wide and long, half the size of the man himself and sheathed across his back. It would be best to avoid him at all costs, if possible. Outnumbered at least five to one, the odds stacked heavily against them.
“Our chances are slim, my lady,” whispered Temier. A measure of fear crept into his voice. Wierna knew he would give his life if need be, as his oaths demanded, but he was not wrong to be afraid. Near one of the fires was a pile of desiccated bodies left to rot. What haunted her, though she would not show it, was that these corpses were stripped of their organs, their eyes hollowed out, and their tongues cut loose.
These bandits were cannibals.
“What do we do, my lady?” asked Urui. She felt his hot breath sweep over her right cheek. Closer than she would have liked. Truth be told, she had no clue on how to proceed. Temier and Urui were both capable fighters, dangerous in their own right, but these bandits were something else entirely. The sight of those bodies made her shiver. Perhaps Naimirth and Urila gave heedful advice. These were no ordinary pillagers.
The sound of a twig snapping from behind startled her. Her guards swung round, swords in hand, but by then it was too late. Four bandits had their bows aimed true on each of them, arrows nocked and strings taut.
“Move and you die,” said a fifth bandit, pushing between his fellows to stand in front. He flashed a grin which showed rows of black teeth.
“Ah, Lady Wierna. The Commander’s been ‘spectin’ you. Tell your dogs to back down.”
Wierna nodded, her heart ramming against her chest and the hairs on her skin standing straight up. Temier and Urui did as they were told, laying their swords down at their feet and, to quell any suspicion of further hostility, interlaced their fingers behind their heads. Ropes bound their wrists together, their mouths gagged with dirty rags. Wierna was let alone and the bandit that spoke led her through the encampment, into their leader’s tent.
“Found ‘er,” he said, shoving her forward by the shoulder. She found the tent to be surprisingly organized for a band so brutal; a dresser sat in a corner and atop it a small mirror, a large oak table took residence in the center replete with an assortment of maps, and a straw mattress lay next to it. Oil lamps burned bright on the table despite the growing daylight. The man these bandits so named their commander sat cross-legged on the ground, eyes shut, his gigantic sword planted in the dirt beside him. He did not answer his subordinate.
“I heard you, Halus. You may leave.” The commander’s voice had a soothing quality, deep but somehow gentle.
Halus bowed, awkward in the attempt, and hurried out of the tent.
The Commander peeled open his eyes and set his silver stare upon her. Her heart fluttered but not in a way she expected. He stood then, tall and imposing. His gaze locked onto her as he walked, slowly circling her once before he grabbed her face. She did not try to wrench herself free. Yet he was not aggressive and traced the lines of her cheeks with a soft touch of his thumbs.
“Do you fear me, Lady Wierna?” he muttered, unblinking.
“I do, though I would try to deny it,” she replied. Her voice was not as strong as she wanted it to be.
He smiled. “I am Priv Jurrus. And you, you are trespassing.”
He released her and took a step back, still studying her intently. He pulled his sword from the ground. She flinched, assuming the worst, but he sheathed it at his back and crossed his arms over his chest.
“I am waiting for you to convince me to spare your men,” he said after the silence became too much to bear. “Make your argument.”
“My men but not myself?”
“Your value is inherent in your title. If you wish them to live, you’ll tell me what value they offer.”
Words trapped in her throat. Her hesitation would cost them. “I… They’re both artists in battle.”
Priv raised a brow. “Are they now? I’d like to see that put to the test.”
He stepped past her and out of the tent. Conversation ensued, then he returned. “Come with me.”
Wierna followed him to where the bandits all stood or sat in an expansive circle. Inside the circle, Temier and Urui faced each other. They both were armed with corroded blades. The bandits hurled jests at the pair, laughing. Priv raised his hands, demanding quiet with the gesture.
“Lady Wierna tells me you are quite the swordsmen. Today you shall prove it. Fight until either of you dies.”
Wierna went to protest, but Priv stopped her cold with an iron look. He moved toward her, so his lips brushed against her ear. “This shall be your doing.” She trembled, but once again was thrown off by her reaction. Her knees weakened and her cheeks warmed.
Temier rushed toward Urui. The bigger man dodged a slash to his abdomen, then whirled and stuck his blade into Temier’s throat. He was much faster than Wierna expected. Blood flowed as Temier crumpled to his knees, gurgling, trying to speak. Then he fell face down. Wierna saw the gleam of tears in Urui’s eyes.
Priv pursed his lips. Whether impressed or disapproving she could not tell. “Good, very good. But that was only part of the test.”
Slow with the flair of dramatics, Priv Jurrus pulled his sword from its scabbard and pressed from the throng into the center of the circle.
“If you can survive me for a minute, I will allow you to live.”
Urui nodded and crouched into an offensive stance. He inched forward, sizing up his opponent before striking with a jab. Priv parried the blow with an effortless twist of the wrist. Then he booted Urui in the chest. Urui stumbled backward, and with a shout, advanced his attack in a flurry of strikes. All of which were almost lazily defended. Priv was toying with him. But he had his fun, then moved into the crescendo, the ending they all expected. He disarmed Urui and kicked him to his knees. The point of his sword grazed against Urui’s Adam’s apple.
“Wait!” exclaimed Wierna, shoving past bandits. “Please, wait!”
Priv glanced in her direction, pushing the point further into Urui’s throat. Blood trickled.
“I’ll offer myself to you,” she said, hardly believing what came out of her mouth. Priv grinned.
He impaled the man without a second thought. The sword went through clean and wide-eyed Urui met the same fate as Temier, dead before he hit the ground.
Tears let loose unbidden as Priv grunted on top of her, thrusting like an animal in heat, insatiable in his desire. He was not violent as she thought he would be and held her as one held a long-time lover, with grace and respect, and this too made her cry out. Her moans carried with them her grief and her pleasure. The noise she made only encouraged him. She wrapped her legs about him, forcing him deeper, hoping it would ease him into finishing sooner than later. But it would also emphasize her ecstasy, yelling as endorphins flooded her system.
And then he was done, his hips spasmodic, his breath hitched. Tears kept coming like an incessant flood. This was her life now for the foreseeable future. It pained her as much as the deaths of her guards, or maybe even moreso. He pushed off of her and laid upon his back.
“I am sorry, Lady Wierna,” he whispered. “Truly.”
“Then why?” she asked. Her voice shook.
“Because I must. No other choice lies before me now.”
Their talk ceased and the firelight died. Wierna cried as she drifted into sleep.