The Duchess: Chapter 8

Vitalia ran her hand down Ruarc’s taut belly.  His wrists were still secured above his head, and his ankles were chained to the foot of the bed.  As she demanded when he slept, he was naked.  The bonds weren’t in place because she feared he’d attack her.  She just liked the way the chains looked on him.  His eyes blinked open, and she smiled before slithering atop him.  “Good morning, my darling.  Did you sleep well?”  She fiddled with the ring she’d placed in his left nipple.

The shackles on his wrists rattled a little.  “I dreamed I was trapped in a mad woman’s castle.”

She laughed.  “Darling, you’ve done nothing to make me angry with you.”  She raised herself up a little to kiss him.  Then she trailed her hand down to begin fondling him.  “You’re the most delightful pet I’ve ever purchased.”  Only the briefest shadow crossed his face at the reminder.  He’d become better at schooling his expressions.  She kissed him again, tasting his lips as she continued toying with him until he was squirming beneath her.  Then she mounted him.

His back arched as he moved for her, thrusting upward to please her.  It hadn’t taken him long to learn.  She arched her own back as she rode him, moaning softly.  The rules of their morning sessions had been explained to him carefully.  If he came before she did, Durante would be allowed to take a belt to his ass before using him.  To Durante’s disappointment, Ruarc had proved disciplined enough to avoid that fate.

When she came, she slid off him, leaving him unfulfilled.  A smirk came to her face when he responded with a glare, and she leaned forward to plant a quick kiss on his lips.  “Keep your hands off yourself, my dear.  If you wish release, you may ask Gian to service you.”  He gave a small shake of his head.  He wouldn’t, as she well knew.  Which meant he’d be having a frustrating day.

“Are you going to unchain me?”  He pulled at his wrists before raising an eyebrow.

“From the bed, yes.”  She grabbed the key, then glanced up when Gian entered in response to her ring of the bell.  Gian was limping just a little.  “Gian, bath Ruarc and then take him into the dungeon and secure him to the frame.”

“Yes, my lady.”  Gian bowed.

Ruarc rose from the bed as soon as she’d finished unfastening the shackles.  There were no clothes laid out for him, and he gave a small shake of his head when he noticed.  She smiled at him.  “And Gian?”

“My lady?”  Gian looked at her.

“Keep him hard, but do not give him release unless he asks you for it.”

Gian gave her a slightly confused look, but nodded.  Ruarc, however, clenched his fists and glared again.  “You said —”

“You need not do anything to him, Ruarc.”  She patted his shoulder.  “Unless you want to.”



The Duchess: Chapter 3

By Thatelan law, a marriage wasn’t fully legal until it was consummated.  The duchess had also made her intentions clear, despite being eager to return to her own lands.  Bedding her was to be expected, per their arrangement.  It should come as no surprise that they’d share a room at the inn, being newlyweds.  His eyes went once again to the item sitting on the pillow.  “You want to tie me to the bed.”

“Yes.”  Her smile was that of a lioness who’d spotted prey.

“And if I let you, you’ll double the stipend.”  He stared at the coil of rope.

“I’ve found a new stallion is often skittish at the first ride.  Offering a reward can smooth the process.”  She waved a hand.  “But our bargain was that you will submit to my will.”

“Obeying you is one matter.”  He shook his head.  “Being rendered helpless is another.”

“Hence the offer of the reward.”  The smile never left her face.

Ruarc exhaled, then glanced at the woman standing behind her.  “Your maid is still present.”

“Enjoy the small pleasures of rank, dear husband.  She’ll save you the effort of undressing yourself.”  Something of his reaction must have shown on his face, because she laughed.  “Come now.  She did quite well last time.”

“I am fully capable of undressing myself.”

“I’m sure you are.”  She shrugged.  “But I like the way you blush when she unlaces your breeches.”  Duchess Vitalia straightened.  “Stand, and let her undress you.”

He took a deep breath before rising.  The maidservant’s smile was a catlike mirror of her mistress’s as she began unfastening his doublet.  She took her time, putting on a show for the duchess.  He clenched his fists, but stayed where he was.  After he was naked, the maid went back to her position behind the duchess.

Her eyes raked over him.  “Well?”  She raised an eyebrow.

Kiera would be smart with the coin, see to their security.  This wouldn’t be forever.  Just until…  “It will be as you wish.”  He exhaled.

“Wonderful.”  She stood then, and trailed a hand across his chest.  “Relax, darling.  You may even enjoy yourself.”


DragonLord: Chapter 19

“I’m fairly confident…”  Rien glanced down at the welt on his side before looking over at Bast.  “That Jochem said she was docile.”

“She’s a fast learner.”  Bast smiled before saluting Maela.  “And if you’d kept your shield up like I’d told you she wouldn’t be hitting you.”

Rachel brought him over a glass of water, and he drank it gratefully.  “Maela, sweetling…”  He grinned.  “If you manage to hit me twice more I’ll let you pick a set of nipple clamps for Bast.”

She twirled the blade before returning his grin.  “Yes, Master Rien.”

“Hey.”  Bast shook his head in protest before accepting the water Rachel brought him.

“You should get him the kind that connect with a chain, sister.”  Rachel sat down next to Bast before picking her book up and going back to reading.

“Listen to your sister, sweetling.”  Rien shifted to the defensive as Maela came at him again.  “She is wise.”

“Incorrigible imps.”

It was tempting to let her through his defenses, but he was certain Bast would have called him on it.  Maela wasn’t as skilled as the knight, but she was able enough to take advantage when he performed a drill improperly.  With Bast occasionally calling her over to whisper instructions, she made an adequate enough practice partner.  He had to hold back due to her own lack of defensive capacity and the simple fact that she simply wasn’t able to take a blow the way Bast could.  That seemed to help him improve, forcing him to use more controlled blows.

Two weeks to go before the stars were right.  His mother insisted everything match her dream.  In some ways, it was a blessing.  Bast was already well on his way to recovery, and another couple weeks would mean he could accompany Rien as planned.  Just to be safe though, he’d decided to bring Maela and Rachel as well.  Both women had been quick to learn every bit of wisdom Efua had been willing to impart, and Rachel seemed dead set on memorizing every piece of dragon lore she could get her hands on.

The simple truth was that he was irritatingly limited in who he could trust.  Just a year ago, he would have assumed he could trust Jurgen and Rutger.  Now Jurgen was gone, and Rutger…  Lammert remained Lammert, and he knew full well that man was watching and waiting.  Biding his time for something, and Rien still wasn’t sure exactly what that was.

“Master Rien…”

“Lovely?”  He glanced at Rachel before parrying Maela’s attack.

“I’ve found three passages that suggest that when the dragon sheds its scales, the new ones are slightly darker in color before they harden.”

“Anything about getting it to stay on the ground so I can see the scales enough to compare colors and stab the blasted thing?”  He countered Maela’s next swing and touched the sword to her lightly.

“Just what we already discussed.”

“Live bait.”  Rien exhaled.  “I’m really not overly enthusiastic about any plan relying on sheep.”


DragonLord: Chapter 16

Struggling against the ropes that bound him just made the situation worse.  He could keep his eyes away from what Maela and Rien were doing, but his ears didn’t have the same luxury.  And both of them were being rather audible with their pleasure.  Fortunately, Rien apparently decided the sofa wasn’t suitable and swept Maela up before carrying her into the bed chamber.

Leaving him rather elaborately tied up in the sitting room.  Bastien turned a little toward Rachel.  “Would you mind untying me?”

“Master Marinus didn’t say to untie you.”  Rachel shook his head.

“He was merely distracted.”  Bastien moved his head in the direction of the bedchamber.  “It likely just slipped his mind.”

“He seemed pleased by you in the ropes.”  Rachel shifted uncertainly.  She gave him a shy smile.  “You are very strong.  I tried to show that.”  She shifted a little.  “Was he pleased?”

“I’m certain he was.”  After all, Bastien was uncomfortable and embarrassed.  No doubt Rien was thrilled.  “Now please untie me.”

“But Master Marinus didn’t say to untie you.”  She shook her head, and glanced in the direction of the bedchamber again.  She looked apprehensive.  “Lord Jochem said Master Marinus was a kind man and a good master.  Is that true?”

“I can see why Jochem would think so.”  Bastien fought the urge to thrash against the ropes.  “But as he had you tie me up and leave me here, my personal opinion may be slightly biased at the moment.”   He exhaled.

“How long have you served Master Marinus?”

“I uh…”  He tried to shrug, and the knots rubbed into him again.  The sensation was annoyingly pleasurable.  “About three weeks.”

“And how long have you been a slave?”  She tilted her head.

“About three weeks.”  When she stared at him, he gave a small shake of his head.  “He took me in a raid about four weeks ago.”

“He trained you in a week?”  Her mouth dropped open in shock.

“No, it’s…”  He sighed.  “Complicated.  Untie me, and I’ll happily tell you all about it.”

“Master Marinus didn’t say to untie you.”  She shook her head at him again.  “You are very pretty in the ropes.  Do you not enjoy them?”

“No, I don’t enjoy them.”  He gave a frustrated growl.

Rachel gave him a wounded look, and her eyes actually teared up.  “I’m sorry.  I put them around your shaft so you would.  Did I do it wrong?”

“I would greatly, greatly appreciate it if you would remove them from that location.”  He could feel himself turning red again.  “It’s very…”  He took a few deep breaths.

“I could relieve…”  She trailed off.  “Master Marinus said we aren’t to touch you.”

“No, I don’t you to —”  He gave a frantic shake of his head.  “Please just untie me.”

“Master Marinus didn’t say to untie you.”

“Then would you…”  He closed his eyes for a few moments before opening them again.  “Would you adjust the ropes so they aren’t…”  He glanced down.  “There?”

“Master Marinus seemed pleased they were there.”  Rachel looked down, and then smiled at him.  “You seem pleased they are there too.”

“Oh for the love of…”  He stared at her.  “You’re enjoying this, aren’t you?”

“Master Marinus said not to touch.”  She trailed her eyes over him.  “Master Marinus didn’t say I couldn’t look.”

“I hope that dragon swallows him whole.”  Bastien glared.  “Would you…”  He looked down at the fur.  “Would you at least help me lay down so I don’t dislocate my shoulder trying to get some rest?”  She complied, then laid down in front of him, only a couple inches away.  The garment she was wearing proved that it was designed only to conceal when she was upright.  He immediately tilted his head back to avert his eyes. She giggled.  “Yeah…”  He took another deep breath.  “I think I figured out why Jochem thought Rien would like you.”


DragonLord: Chapter 15

Bastien tried not to stare.  Between the two women, they wore almost enough cloth to make a handkerchief.  The thought crossed his mind that if Rien had the women to occupy himself with, perhaps he’d leave Bastien alone.  The thought was almost immediately followed by guilt at the idea of the women having to put up with the man.

Rien continued talking with Jochem, who it seemed handled all the actual responsibility that came with Rien’s position as a prince.  He noted there were faint scars around Jochem’s neck, as though he’d once worn a collar similar to Bastien’s.  Yet the man clearly knew his own importance, for he had no trouble at all castigating Rien until Rien presented him with a painting he’d looted from the Duke’s castle.  “Jochem, you knew I was alive.  I sent spoils back more than once.”

“Without so much as an inventory or missive save some hireling asking for me by name and saying ‘Marinus Draak said to deliver this to you’.”  Jochem threw up his hands.  “For all I knew, they’d looted half of it before making the delivery.  And how exactly was I to know what you wanted done with any of it?”

“If I knew what I wanted done with it I’d have done it.”  Rien shook his head.  “That’s the kind of thing I keep you around for.”

“You…”  Jochem glared.  “You…”

“Bast, help him out here?”  Rien glanced over his shoulder.

“Imprudent wastrel.”  Bastien nodded.

“Yes.  You imprudent wastrel!”  Jochem poked Rien in the chest.  “I’m having copies of the ledgers made for you.  They’ll be delivered to your quarters this evening.”

“What of the aqueducts, did that work out?”  Rien raised an eyebrow.

“Oh yes, quite well, in fact.  The groves have expanded out into the hills.  It will take a couple more years before they are productive, of course, but when I visited two months ago they actually succeeded in impressing me.”  Jochem smiled.  “The vineyards have expanded as well.  I sent word to Tineke when I heard you’d arrived.  She has quite the tithe she’s been eager to send you.”  He shrugged.  “I sent her a share from your last delivery to be used in expanding her outbuildings.”

“Well done.”  Rien smiled.  “Aside from Bast here, you may tell your wife she may pick whatever she likes from my latest spoils.  Your son and daughter as well.”

“Thank you, my lord.”  Jochem nodded.

“Now get back to work.”  Rien clapped him on the shoulder.  “I pay you to be brilliant, not to stand about in halls gossiping.”  Jochem rolled his eyes, but smiled before taking his leave.  Rien’s own smile was fond as he watched the man go, then he turned toward Bastien.  “I took Jochem when I was twelve.  My first raid.”  He chuckled.  “Brought him and the other spoils back with me to the encampment, then picked him at random to be my cupbearer that evening.  He was standing a couple feet from me when one of the soldiers brought me a report.  Jochem took one look at it, upside down mind you, and informed me the quartermaster was shorting the take for the men to gain himself a larger share.”

“I take it he was right?”  Bastien raised an eyebrow.

“Turned out to be the least of what the quartermaster was doing.  I had him executed and gave the job to Jochem.”  Rien shrugged, then turned to look at the woman.  “So, which one of you is Maela?”


Stone and Fire: Chapter 26

Mbali and Ama were both wearing crowns of shimmering gemstones, and had silken capes draped around their shoulders.  Villagers were offering each plate of food to the two children, letting them choose the first morsels before allowing anyone else to eat.  Uduak blinked.  “Baako…”

Baako laughed.  “See it from their perspective, my heart.  Things are dark, their children are starving, a monster preys upon them, and then out of the sea come strangers, bearing the things they need most.  Answering their prayers.”  He smiled.  “And then, from where they sit, taking only a pittance as payment.”

“A pittance?”  Uduak stared.  “Do they have —”

“No, Uduak, they don’t.”  He laughed again.  “To them, colored pearls are common enough they give them to the children to use as marbles, and beyond that you are just asking for beans.”  He leaned back against one of the trees.  “Without Liam to guide us through the reefs, we’d have had only a small chance of making it here safely.  What we see is something we’ve accepted as normal.  They have clear eyes and so…”  He shrugged.  “They see the miracle.”

“Storm’s mercy, the charts to get here alone would buy us another ship.”  She exhaled, then took a slow, deep breath.  Her eyes went toward where a third of the crew were listening to Chidike tell the tale.  Liam had killed a basilisk in single combat.  Unarmored, and blindfolded.  “Return the gem to the fire, and you’ll be given a gift beyond what you dreamed.”

“Speaking of gifts…”  Baako glanced at the village.  “The governor or whoever he is keeps trying to give me a very large rock and…”  He shrugged.  “I’m going to need Liam to figure out what is going on with that.”

“I’ll uh…”  She sighed.  “Order Adaeze to let him out.”

“Just for a little while, and…”  Baako slowly nodded.  “Maybe on a short leash?”  He shook his head.  “Storm’s mercy, I’m going to set that boy to cleaning the bilge.  What the hell was he thinking with…”  He clenched his fists, then took a deep breath of his own.  “Should put him on bread rations and tie him to the mast and hang upside down from the rigging and…”

She shook her head and walked away as Baako was still muttering disciplinary actions.


Stone and Fire : Chapter 18

She lay next to him, her head on his shoulder, tucked under his chin.  Her hair was just long enough to tickle his nose.  It felt right, having her there.  She hadn’t untied him, but he knew she wasn’t asleep either.  Strange how even bound, he felt safe with her.  He let out a contented sigh.

“Falling asleep on me?”  She brushed a hand over his belly, barely avoiding a tickle.

“No.”  Liam smiled.  “Your hair smells faintly of ginger.”

Cuddled against him, she laughed.  “It’s only taken you three years to notice.”  She raised her head, then kissed the side of his jaw.

“I noticed the first time you used the rinse.”  He raised his head to touch his forehead to hers.  “Just as I noticed your eyes are like polished mahogany.  Brown with a hint of fire.”

“What else do you notice?”  She smiled down at him.

“That your skin is softer than the finest doeskin.  And you taste of…”  He gazed up at her.  “Autumn.”

Slowly, she came closer, then she pressed her lips against his.  He closed his eyes and drank her in, enjoying the sensation.  The shadows fled at her touch.  “Do you want me to untie you?”

Liam tilted his head before looking up at his bound wrists.  “Do you want to untie me?”

“I…”  She shifted, then sat up and put her leg over him to straddle his torso.  “Not really.  I like you like this.”  Adaeze’s smile was playful.  “You’re so tall most of the time, but here and now…”  She leaned down, then kissed him softly.  “You’re just the right height.”  She hesitated a moment after sitting up, chewing her lower lip.  “Another night, I would like to tie your legs as well.  But I’ll not push you further tonight.  You’re not ready.”

“I…”  He took a deep breath, nodding as he realized she was right.  “Thank you, Adaeze.”

“Liam…”  She ran her knuckles over his cheek, then down his throat.  “Tomorrow I intend to go to Uduak and tell her that I am claiming you.”

“Adaeze…”  He nodded.  “I have been yours since you smiled at me in a dream.”

Her eyes lit up as she bent down to kiss him again.


Stone and Fire : Chapter 17

Baako brushed hair back from her face, and smiled.  Uduak tiredly returned the smile, then looked over at where Liam sat, holding the newborn.  Her son was staring at her daughter with a wonder-filled smiled on his face as he cuddled her protectively.  “What do you see, little lamb?”  She sat up a little, then regretted it as the ship rocked.

“Ama.”  Liam’s voice held awe.  “So many possibilities.  Like the breath of life crossing the world.”  He touched her cheek.  “The storm is singing to her.”  He tilted his head, then shifted to turn to the sailor near the door.  “No.  Tell them to turn to port.  We will hit reefs if we try to ride the edge.  Into the storm, and all deck hands tether.  It will be hard but over fast.”

“You heard him.”  Uduak gestured.  It was almost unnecessary.  Her crew had been thrilled at her son’s return.  They knew well not to doubt him.  The Phoenix had little reason to fear anything while he was aboard.

The ship lurched again, but it didn’t take long before she could feel the sea calming around them.  “Ama.”  Liam lifted the infant so he could whisper to her.  “Don’t worry.  I’ll make sure they don’t catch you.”  He winked at Uduak.

She let out a sigh before laying back and looking up at her husband.  “It is as you feared.”  Her voice was grave.

“They’ve allied against us.”  He gave her a despairing look.  “May the sea have mercy.”


The Woods: Chapter 5

Keffer caught her arm and yanked her off the bed, pushing her against the wall.  “Enough, Ileana.  You’re killing him.”

She started to protest, and his hand touched her breast.  A wave of sensation flooded through her, driving all else from her mind.  Ileana staggered when it stopped, catching and holding Keffer for support.  It took her several tries to catch her breath.  “My father was not a traitor.”

“I am well aware of who and what your father was, Ileana.”  Keffer pulled her into a hug, holding her tightly.

“He was lying.”  She clung to him.

“He told the truth as he saw it, precious heart.”


“Is it his fault he was deceived?”  Keffer looked down at her.

“That doesn’t excuse that he lied to me then.”  She glared.

“No.”  Keffer nodded.  “It does not.  You were his wife, and should have been his first loyalty.  He broke the laws of sacred hospitality.  You are not wrong to be angry.”  He tilted her head up.  “But some of your anger is misdirected.  Tell me, precious heart, is it the knife or the one who wields it that holds responsibility for the cut?”

“Why would they…”  She shook her head, and let Keffer guide her to a chair.  “Why would anyone seek to hurt my father?”

“Greed for his lands.”  Keffer shrugged.  “And sheer ignorance.  How few among the mortal realm would believe such as I still exist?  Your family has performed its sacred duty well these past centuries.”

“And now it’s his family holding the castle.”  Ileana sighed.  “Nicolas.”

“The man who tried to save your sister.”  Keffer raised an eyebrow.

“I…”  She sighed.  “I need to think.”

“Take your time, precious heart.”  Keffer rose, then bent and picked up Thomas, slinging the unconscious man over his shoulder.

“Where are you…”  Ileana frowned.

“Forgive me, dear one, but I do not think it is in his best interest to be within your line of sight.”  Keffer shrugged.  “I will return him to you when your rage no longer controls you.”

Ileana sighed, then nodded.  She took a deep breath, and then rose and began to pace.


The Woods: Chapter 4

He was no longer certain how many days he’d spent hanging from the tree.  At least a week, maybe more.  Time seemed to pass strangely where ever it was they were.  At seemingly random intervals he’d take his meals with Ileana and her strange companions.  He was becoming somewhat inured to their taunts.  The delicate winged woman had even expressed disappointment in the fact he no longer blushed just by sitting at the table.  The satyr, however, could still make him turn red, though at least half the time it was anger rather than embarrassment.  It would whisper to him when it put him back in the tree, of things it would like to do to him.  Ileana seemed to find it amusing, though she never let the creature go beyond words.

The few hours he was given to sleep were never quite enough.  He’d be woken, and set out to be displayed in her garden again.  Her silent trophy.  She never let him speak, save to make him beg for basic necessities.  And to make him ask the satyr to be put back in the tree.

They were plotting against his brothers.  Ileana viewed Nicolas as a threat, and rightly so.  Nicolas would have known what all these creatures were.  If anyone could get this blasted collar off, it was him.  There had to be some way to get a warning to him.  With warning, he could prepare, could…  Do something.  Thomas had nearly forgotten what it felt like not to hurt.

She was waiting for him outside the privy door.  Waiting to put him back in the tree.  Thomas took a deep breath.  The satyr had suggested a collar for Nicolas, and Ileana had laughed.  Said it was only fair that the beast have a pet prince of his own.  He couldn’t stomach the thought of his brother at that thing’s mercy.  If she would just listen…  He looked up, and met his reflection’s eyes.  Then he took another deep breath, and went to the door.


The Woods : Chapter 3

Refusing to let him dress had been petty of her, she knew that.  Yet the look on his face when he realized he was going to have to be stark naked in front of a dozen of her dinner guests had been hilarious.  Her friends weren’t making it easy on him either.  He sat next to her, hunched in front of the table, trying to keep what modesty he could.  Janna trailed a hand across his shoulder, leaning in behind him as she poured wine into Ileana’s cup.  Then she ‘accidentally’ dumped half the flagon of iced wine into Thomas’s lap.  He yelped when the cold liquid hit him, but managed not to jump out of his seat.  Several of her guests made disappointed sounds.

The slyph produced a towel.  “Here.”  She grinned.  “Let me get that for you.”

He caught the towel.  “Thank you, but I can manage.”

“No, really.”  Janna licked her lips.  “I insist.”

“I have the matter under control.”  He tugged at the towel, but Janna didn’t release it.

“It is a big mess.”  On the other side of him, Keffer picked up his napkin and started toward him.

Thomas immediately released Janna to catch Keffer’s wrist.  “I appreciate the…”  He trailed off when Janna started reaching into his lap again, and caught the towel with his other hand.

“Maybe he just likes being wet and sticky.”  Tsara laughed.

“Well, then…”  Keffer pulled his wrist free of Thomas and set the napkin back down.  “If that’s the way he likes it.”

“Hmmm…”  Janna shrugged, then pulled the towel away before going back to her seat.

Ileana hid her smile behind her wine cup.  Then she set her glass down.  “Thomas.  Would you be so kind as to go to the sideboard over there…”  She pointed.  “And fetch me another roll?”

His glare was luminous.  Then he shoved his chair back, stood, and stalked toward the sideboard.  Several cheers accompanied the action.  He grabbed a roll and brought it back, holding it out to her.  She smiled.  “And could you put some butter on it?”


The Woods: Chapter 2

“How?”  Thomas stared at her.  She was…  and yet she couldn’t be.  Princess Ileana had thrown herself from her balcony into the river below.  He’d seen it with his own eyes.

Instead of answering, she lifted a thin bladed knife.  She moved toward his neck, and for a heartbeat he thought she was going to slice open his throat.  Instead, she cut the rope around his neck.

His head dropped forward, and he sucked in air.  His position still prevented him from drawing a full breath, but he was no longer limited to the painful, shallow gasps.  He wasn’t sure how long he hung there, limp, just breathing, before she caught his hair and viciously yanked his head up and back again.

Around her wrist was coiled a golden serpent.  It raised its head, flicking its tongue at him.  It hissed, revealing glistening fangs.  “You belong to me.”  Her voice was soft, with a curious echo to it.  “Body and soul.”

“Kill me and get it over with.”  He stared back at her.

Her smile was vicious.  “Oh no.”  She gave a small shake of her head.  “It won’t be that easy for you.”

The serpent reared its head back and struck, its fangs piercing the skin of his throat.  Fire seemed to flow through his veins as he felt it coil around his neck.  He screamed as darkness closed over him.


The Woods : Chapter 1

Ileana gave a slow shake of her head at the captive.  Despite the bonds being unnecessary, Vula had overindulged in the ropes.  The young man’s elbows were secured to one wooden pole, and his hands were secured to another.  The particularly cruel part was that his knees had been bound to the same pole as his wrists, and his feet to the same pole as his elbows, nearly bending him in a circle.  Additional ropes formed a harness over his chest and shoulders, going between and around his legs.  Another rope encircles his throat, tight enough to put pressure but not quite enough to strangle him outright.  He’d been blindfolded, with the blindfold used as an additional restraint to pull his head backward.  An inch and a half thick wooded rod had been jammed between his teeth like a bit.  It had been secured tightly enough that there was a thin trickle of blood coming from both corners of his mouth.  The poles had been placed atop two wooden beams, forcing his already strained joints to support his weight.  All he wore was the ropes.

She drew a knife from the scabbard on her hip as she walked over to him.  His breath was coming in short, painful gasps.  If she left him like that for a few hours more, he was likely going to die.  She considered just making herself comfortable and watching it happen.  At the moment, though, he was unaware of her presence.  Possibly even unaware of her continued existence.  And that was unacceptable.

There was a sharp intake of breath from him as she laid the tip of the blade against his cheek.  Even if he had any wiggle room, actual struggling had been beyond him for some time.  She slid the knife between rope and skin, then cut through the bound that held the dowel in place.  She had to tug it slightly to get it loose from his teeth, and he worked his jaw a moment when it came free.

His body was dirty in places, but sweat had long since evaporated and he was unable to produce more.  She found herself wondering if it would be dehydration or suffocation that killed him if she walked away now.  It was likely the bonds had already done serious damage to his body.  That, however, she could repair.  If it suited her.  Leaving him a crippled wreck had its own temptations.

“Water.”  She nearly jumped at the sound.  His voice was cracked and hoarse.

Even a small amount of water could keep a man alive for a long time.  How long could he survive, bound like that, if she watered him?  Her gaze went to the wood laid beneath him.  Vula’s idea, no doubt.  Fire was usually her first suggestion to dealing with any problem.  Ileana walked to the nearby table and picked up a silver cup.  She filled it with the cool liquid from the spring, then took a carved wooden spoon before returning to stand in front of him.  His mouth was dry, the lips cracked.  It looked painful.  She smiled.  She put a spoonful of water, a few measly drops, into his mouth.  It was barely enough for him to swallow.  She gave him another before setting the cup aside.  “Your name.”

“More.  Please.”  There was pain in his voice.

“I asked for your name.”