Jalav —
Amazon Warrior #2:
An Oath to Mida
by
Sharon Green
Copyright © 1983, 2010 by Sharon Green

Chapter 1
A meeting of enemies - and the tears of Mida


The fey was more than cool despite the brightness of the skies, yet I would not allow the discomfort of it to touch me. My warriors and I wore naught save the clan covering of the Hosta about our hips, each of us standing within small, silent sets not far from the platforms which had been set upon the grass within sight of the entrance of the immense dwelling of Galiose. The High Seat of Ranistard had declared a feast that fey for those who would soon arrive in the city, yet my warriors and I planned a greeting of another sort. I sat cross-legged upon the grass, watching the slaves both male and female prepare the provender for the feast, and Gimin and Fayan came to sit beside me.

"All are prepared, Jalav," said Fayan, her brown eyes arove among my warriors. Then a small laugh escaped her, and she tossed her heavy, golden hair. "The males insisted to all Hosta that they be present at the feast for the Silla. Soon shall such demands be regretted by them."

"Males must ever be demanding actions of warriors," I murmured, my eyes, too, unable to rest. "The damned Silla shall be welcomed as Hosta are ever wont to welcome blood enemies, and I regret only the loss of our weapons. Yet shall we make do without. How goes the time for your slave, Fayan?"

Fayan’s eyes came to me, and laughter was there in them as well as in her voice.

"The slave Nidisar finds his lot a hard one." She grinned, her hand going to her life sign where it hung upon its leather about her neck. "I have had him secured in the room of feeding in his own dwelling, and there have I used him each time desire has come to me." She paused to laugh again, with true pleasure. "Truly has he been repaid for his actions with me, and great anger is ever upon him - most especially when he must swallow his slave gruel, or have it forced upon him by Galiose’s males. My enjoyment of him is great, and I shall not see him released till my revenge is complete."

"I do not envy you your enjoyment," said Gimin sourly as she lay upon her side by us. Her hair, as black as mine, fell about the arm she leaned upon, and her gray eyes watched the grass. "The male will not forget your treatment of him," said she, "and if ever you release him, you may be sure he shall see to his own revenge. I do not care for the revenge of males."

Fayan and I exchanged a glance, for easily might it be seen that Gimin yet felt the punishment given her by the male who had claimed her. The Hosta, once free, had all been taken captive by the males of Ranistard, and now were we expected to tend to the males and obey them, and serve them in their pleasure.

Gimin had joined Fayan, Larid, Binat and myself when we had escaped from Ranistard to seek the third Crystal of Mida, yet had we been recaptured by the males, the Crystal taken from us, and we, ourselves, returned to Ranistard. Much angered had Gimin’s male been at her attempt to regain freedom, and much leather had he used upon her in punishment.

After having given her humiliation and pain, he had used her as though she were slave and unable to deny him, saying he would teach her clearly what her actions had brought upon her. Gimin continued to ache from his anger, yet she had joined us as we grouped against the coming of the Silla, for true Hosta warrior was she. The pain given by males was not to be considered against the duty a Hosta owed to her clan.

Fayan was no longer amused, and she, too, stretched out upon the grass in thought, her unbound hair amove about her. Once before had she angered Nidisar, and the male had not been gentle with her. That was doubtless now in her thoughts, although the time was past when the predicament might be avoided.

Galiose had given Fayan the gift of Nidisar as a slave, for Fayan had demanded such in exchange for her assistance in using the device of the gods. That the use had not brought the males the results they had desired made little difference, for the gift had not been disclaimed by Galiose. The High Seat Galiose was at times capable of a certain honor, and Fayan had retained her gift.

I shifted in the grass and raised my eyes to the blue of the skies with a sigh. Such great difficulty had the Crystals of Mida caused, pain and death the like of which only full battle might produce, yet had it all gone seemingly for naught. The males had not spoken with the gods as they had hoped, and were greatly distressed.

We had been told that we were lost kin to those who spoke from the depth of the golden air about the device, and that soon would come others to take from us our ignorance and lack of knowledge, to be replaced with the great benefits of those who are truly civilized. Deep shock had been felt by the males, caused in great part by the knowledge that those who came to teach the ignorant were female, and the past two feyd had been spent by them in almost constant discussion, seeking a means by which those who were to come might be returned from whence they came.

Fayan and I, who had been present when the threatened invasion had been spoken to us, had yet, nonetheless, been barred from the discussions of the males, first having been cautioned to speak no word to others of what had occurred. Most annoyed had Fayan and I been; we had, however, other matters of import to discuss between ourselves. We had withdrawn to the dwelling which had once been Nidisar’s, and there had we drunk renth and spent many hind in an attempt to make sense of what had occurred.

We, who were Hosta of the Midanna, followed the teachings of Mida, and Mida, too, had been spoken of by she whose voice came from the golden air. The female had denied the divinity of Mida, saying Mida was naught save a joining of theirs, yet was such not to be believed. I, myself, had been spoken to by Mida in dreams, and had often seen things that only occurred by the will of Mida.

Fayan and I agreed that the female who had spoken knew not the true nature of Mida, and then we discussed how to halt the strangers when they came. The Midanna would require little urging to ride forth upon their gandod, bravely draped in their clan colors, each warrior eager for battle, yet would it be necessary for word to reach them of our need. Although the males would surely lose if they engaged the strangers in battle, the Hosta were kept close behind the walls of Ranistard, not being allowed to return to our lands beyond the Dennin river.

Once we had escaped the walls to ride in search of the third Crystal, yet our escape had been known to and approved of by the males, who had wished that we fetch the Crystal for their use. Not again would escape prove as effortless as it had been then, and the Hosta would need a greater effort to ride free once more.

The cramps came again to my middle as they had done so often in the past two feyd, therefore I lay back in the grass, one hand upon the pain, till the aching would cease. The pain brought Ceralt to mind, and deep anger filled me at thought of the male. Much pain had Ceralt brought unknowingly to me, yet this pain that now was mine came from his desire to see me with child.

That a war leader of the Midanna, such as I, was forbidden to have life within her meant naught to the male, for he had claimed me as his own, to do with me as he pleased. Many strange feelings had I had for the light-eyed, dark-skinned hunter, and by cause of these feelings had he been able to send me seeking the third Crystal, thinking I rode to aid him in dire need, when in truth he and the other males had merely followed the track my warriors and I left, and then took the Crystal from us when we had secured it.

Many times had I been betrayed by the hunter Ceralt, yet now he would see me further betrayed by placing his seed within me. The leaves of the dabla bush, which had kept me childless, were then in battle with a potion given me by Phanisar, a thing done by the aged male at the urging of Ceralt, and Phanisar had said that the potion would have bested the dabla leaves in a matter of feyd.

Quite pleased had Ceralt been with his actions, yet had I been able to locate dabla bushes within Ranistard, and had, each fey since the potion was given me, chewed the leaves to increase its strength against the potion. The taste of the leaves was not unpleasant, yet even were they foul enough to curl the tongue, still I would have chewed them with a will. Not again would the hunter Ceralt have opportunity to betray me.

"Jalav, I have had a thought," said Gimin from where she lay. "The High Seat will not be pleased by the manner in which we greet the Silla. Think you his anger shall reach out to the war leader alone, as once before? That would be an unfair burden upon you."

A sudden breeze blew my hair about my thighs, and I brushed it back before shrugging. "There is no knowing, Gimin," said I, "yet have I little care for the anger of males. Should they so dislike the doings of Hosta, they may release us and have done with it for all time. Hosta have ever been free, and I, for one, will retain my freedom even in captivity."

"It is difficult for one to be free beneath the lash," said Fayan, sitting straight once more so that she might look down upon me. "Thus far has Ceralt kept you from it, yet the patience of Galiose runs thin in these times. The Hosta have given over darkness roving so that they might prepare themselves for the Silla, yet our attack may well bring the lashing Galiose promised in revenge for the roving. Think you Ceralt shall once again find himself able to dissuade the High Seat from his purpose?"

"Do not speak of that male to me!" I spat, raising myself, too, from the grass. "Should the hunter Ceralt be taken by Mida before my eyes, I would do naught save laugh! The battle will soon be upon us, Hosta! Have you no means by which to prepare for it save by chatter about males?"

My warriors appeared shame-faced and subdued before the anger of their war leader, though Fayan looked at me strangely. Fayan had found revenge for what had been done to her by Nidisar, yet was I unable to revenge myself upon Ceralt in a like manner. The male had used the darknesses of the past two feyd to fill me well with his seed, and had refused to hear why I wished to remain as I was. Jalav will no longer be war leader to the Hosta, he had said, therefore might Jalav now be given a child to bear.

The first of many, he had said, and then had he forced his way within me, using the accursed strength of males to overcome my denial. Deep pleasure had I found in the past through the touch of Ceralt, yet little pleasure had been granted me of late. No word would I again address to Ceralt, though he as yet was unaware of that. Much concerned had he been with the discussions in the dwelling of Galiose, and had returned to his own dwelling only for sleep and the use of Jalav.

"The nilno seem nearly done," said Gimin, her eyes upon the hand of nilno aroast upon the fire beyond the platforms of provender. "Surely the time will not be long before the Silla are brought. Think you they have chosen a war leader to stand for Zolin, Jalav?"

"Undoubtedly Zolin left one to direct matters in her absence," said I, again smoothing down my hair. "Though the Silla know not yet that Zolin has been bested, they shall still be led by a war leader. Would that her blood, too, might cover my sword as Zolin’s did upon that fey long past."

My warriors made no answer to my words, for no sword had any of us to wield. The males of Ranistard had taken all from us, as they would have taken all from the Silla before approaching the city with them. In truth, I felt less loathing toward the Silla than for Ceralt, since the Silla had not betrayed me as Ceralt had.

My freedom and pride had Ceralt taken, my will and desires ignored by him, and then had he caused me to feel such things that a warrior was not meant to feel. Having nearly destroyed me as a warrior, he had then betrayed those feelings he had caused within me, giving me shame for ever having felt them. Once had I delighted in the feel of the male’s arms about me, once had his lips been the sweetest of touches, once had I longed for the gentleness of his presence. Not again would desire for those things come to me.

The sound of a kan’s hooves upon the broad way caused my warriors to turn, and they and I beheld the hasty arrival of a male in the leather and metal of Galiose. The male drew rein before the large, pink-stone dwelling of the High Seat, then jumped from his mount and climbed the steps rapidly, to disappear within the entrance to the dwelling. The large grin upon his face spoke of the arrival of the Silla, for the males of Ranistard were sorely in need of females to tend them.

Few females had there been left by cause of the doings of the traitor Vistren, therefore had the males decided to replace the lost with captured Hosta and Silla. The Silla, through dealing with Vistren, had hoped for the trade of their Crystal for many male slaves to serve them. With the death of Vistren had gone their hopes, and soon would they be urged with leather to tend to the needs of males they had wished for slaves. No less had the Silla earned by their actions, yet the Hosta had not done as they.

The Hosta had displeased Mida with their failure to recover her Crystals, therefore were the Hosta held as well. Perhaps the coming battle might in some measure ease the wrath of Mida, so that her Hosta might be forgiven their failure. Could I but raise the host of Midanna from beyond the Dennin to face the coming strangers, surely would I also find a means to return the Crystals to their rightful place. The Hosta would then be free to return to their own lands, where naught of males might touch their lives with pain.

An ache again ran through my middle, and I wrapped my arms about myself and willed the pain to be gone, for soon I would need all my strength. No sound did I make against the pain, yet Fayan saw and frowned.

"Jalav, I fear the pain comes more often to you than previous," she said, her hand upon my shoulder. "Perhaps it is unwise to continue with the dabla leaves in the presence of the potion. Can naught of council be gotten from Phanisar upon the matter?"

I forced a breath of air through my lungs, and then looked upon Fayan bleakly. "Phanisar is male, and moves in the cause of another male," I rasped. "As the warrior Fayan should know. Perhaps the warrior Fayan becomes too concerned with males and their aid. Has she yet decided upon a time when her war leader may have use of her slave, as was previously promised?"

Fayan’s hand left my shoulder, and her gold-maned head rose high. "The war leader may have use of Nidisar whenever she chooses," she answered, her dark eyes unblinkingly upon me. "Yet do I feel that Jalav seeks not to punish Nidisar for his treatment of her while she lay chained as a slave, but seeks instead to cause hurt to another. Has he touched you so deeply, Jalav, that you are no longer able to speak as one sister should to another?"

Fayan did naught to betray her hurt, yet was I able to see its presence in her eyes. Of all my warriors had Fayan been the truest, and no cause had there been for me to speak to her as I had. My head lowered in silence, and one hand left the ache in my middle to cover my eyes, so that I might not look upon the shame I had brought to myself. Again her hand came to my shoulder, and her words were soft and concerned.

"Jalav, I do not care to see you so," she said, though I looked not upon her. "I feel certain the potion has done you an illness which was not meant to be. Speak with Phanisar and question him upon the matter."

"I cannot," I whispered, shaking my head. "Should he learn that I have again chewed dabla leaves, the other, too, would know. The pain shall soon pass and leave me free once more."

A short silence was there, and then Fayan grasped my shoulders. "Jalav, can you not even speak his name?" she demanded. "What has he done that burns so within you? Many times has Ceralt kept you from the wrath of the High Seat, to his own jeopardy! That he cares for you may easily be seen by - "

"He has betrayed me!" I snarled, disallowing the balance of her words as I brushed her hands from me. "The male uses me in all things, forever an item of trade! The pain - !" My words, too, ended abruptly, for no wish had I to discuss my pain. I looked again upon Fayan, and then rose to my feet. "Soon shall the Silla be among us, sister. Let us make ready."

Fayan sat saddened, Gimin silent by her side, and then they both regained their feet as sounds came to us from the beginning of the broad way which ran past the dwelling of Galiose. Chill was the air, and chill, too, was the grass beneath my feet, yet all matched the chill within me as my hair blew about my thighs.

Completely unbound was the hair of my warriors, for I had disallowed the placing of war leather upon it. Many of the males knew the use of war leather, and foolish, indeed, would it be to give warning of our intent. The Silla would be well aware of where they had been taken, for the drug used for their capture would no longer be with them, and sight of waiting Hosta would be warning enough.

Many males began to drift within sight of us, each looking back toward the body of the city and the sounds of joy and greeting coming faintly therefrom. The dwellings were hung with many-colored silks as they had been hung about for the fetching of the Hosta, yet no more than two colors would find preeminence that fey. The green of the Hosta and the red of the Silla would merge in battle, one to prove triumphant above the other. Mida willing, the green of Hosta would prevail as ever it did when Hosta and Silla met.

The sounds of male voices raised in triumph reached us more clearly, and then appeared the first of the males, a Silla held bound before him. The Silla twisted about, attempting escape from the male who held her and the leather which bound her wrists, yet were her efforts to no avail. Nearer to the dwelling of the High Seat was she brought, others behind her, and the red of their clan colors reached to my warriors and caused them to stir. No more than a stir did my Hosta allow themselves, no more than a stir would the males perceive. Later, with the Silla unbound, would they perceive further.

Not long was it before the Silla were brought to the platforms of provender, their eyes no longer looking about. They gazed upon the waiting Hosta, knowing full well of the battle soon to be brought to them, not one of their greater than twenty hands in number doubting such. We, too, numbered greater than twenty hands, therefore would the battle be of much pleasure, although no weapons were at hand.

The males dismounted, reached the Silla down to stand beside them, and then Galiose approached from his dwelling, the males who had been in council with him moving in his wake. Large and broad was Galiose and dark of hair and eye, his well-made body clad in a short blue covering of city males, with blue leather and metal covering of protection above that. His feet, like those of the other males, were encased in leather, which was bound up his legs, showing he cared naught for the touching of Mida’s sweet ground by his own flesh.

Those of the cities have no souls, and by their each and every action do they proclaim it. My hand went to my life sign, that of the hadat, the guardian of my soul, and there it rested as Galiose and his males drew nearer. Behind was Ceralt, and the large, dark hunter moved his light eyes about, searching for the presence of Jalav. Jalav had been bidden to attend the feast, and as Ceralt’s eyes touched me, a small smile of satisfaction appeared. Jalav had obeyed Ceralt, so he thought, yet never would Jalav obey Ceralt.

Beside Ceralt, Telion walked, and the great, red gold-haired male warrior also seemed pleased. Telion, as Ceralt, cared little for disobedience, and therefore had Larid, my warrior whom Telion had made his own, been refused permission for attendance. Larid, who was with child, had not been deemed strengthened enough from her illness to bear the exertions of a feast time, yet had it been my word that had kept Larid within Telion’s dwelling. Indeed had my warrior not the strength for battle, and this had I proclaimed above her protests. A true Hosta warrior, Larid had wished to join her sisters against the Silla, yet had she obeyed the word of her war leader, as do all Hosta.

Many murmurings were there from the males all about, and then Galiose paused before the gathering to hold his arms high. Much pleased was the High Seat with the look of Silla, and slowly did his eyes move among them as a silence covered the waiting throng. When full silence had fallen, Galiose raised his voice.

"We, the men of Ranistard, welcome the Silla wenches to our city," he shouted, his deep voice carrying to all. "The Silla have been found pleasing to men, therefore have they been taken by men as mates. No longer shall the Silla find need to do battle, for we shall now stand their protection. We open our city to you as we have already opened it to the Hosta, and you may explore as you please, so long as you remain a distance of two streets from gate or wall. I feel sure the Hosta will inform you of the penalties for being found nearer, for the Hosta have already incurred those penalties."

He paused briefly to grin about himself, and the listening males chuckled in rueful remembrance. Again the Hosta stirred, also in remembrance, yet naught was said.

"Now, wenches," Galiose continued, "you may join us at the feast prepared for you. Ranistard welcomes her newest citizens in such a manner."

The males beside the Silla began to unbind them, and other males began to approach the platforms tended by slaves. As previously instructed, each of my warriors watched her war leader closely, and then began her approach as I did. The Silla twisted about, desperate to be released before the arrival of Hosta. No battle would there be with bound Silla, and as the leather fell from them and they turned to face us, I gave the signal for attack.

Hosta battle cry merged with Silla as males were shouldered from our path, and then were our two groups met, nails and teeth and stones doing that which should have been done by sharpened metal. Shouts were there about us, and cries of victory and defeat, and she who had closed with me found a scream in her throat for the pain which my teeth brought to her. Her hair, a pale gold of a length like mine, merged with mine in the struggle of battle and the breeze which had grown to wind.

Naught save a single silver ring in her ear did this warrior wear, showing that she had attained full warrior status in battle, yet I wore the second ring as well in my left ear, showing my attainment of war leadership. In true battle, each war leader sought out the other so that skill might match with skill; now, though, that was impossible. The true Silla war leader lay dead by my sword, and no other might yet have been chosen for the second ring. I faced only a simple warrior, yet was not reluctant.

A chaos and cacophony surrounded the area, the blood lust rose high within me, yet no time was there to dedicate my enemy’s blood to Mida, nor to partake of it. Blood flowed freely from the Silla’s shoulder when I was pulled from her by the hands of males, and each of us was held well out of reach as other warriors were separated. My left arm bore the marks of her painful reprisal, yet I had no feeling for the touch of pain.

High was my pleasure at having closed with Silla trash, and deep was the snarling coming from the Silla as a male attempted to examine her shoulder. All about were warriors held from what they had been about, and high was the anger of the males, yet was their anger as naught when compared to that of Galiose.

The large male roared about himself, ordering the separating of warriors, and Telion and Ceralt each held a struggling Silla, attempting to keep them from the Hosta who struggled toward them, held by yet other males. Galiose, in his anger, did not await the silence as he had before, but strode toward where I stood, held in the grip of males, and then took my hair in his fist and shook my head by it.

"So!" he hissed, his blazing eyes not far from mine. "The Hosta war leader would turn my city to a battleground, spitting upon my words of welcome to these others! Never before have I seen wenches act so, and never again shall I see its like! This time shall Jalav feel the lash of punishment!"

"No!" shouted Ceralt from where he stood, and quickly did he pass the Silla he held to another male so that he might stride to where Galiose glowered, my hair held in his fist. "Galiose, do not have her lashed!" he insisted, his light eyes disturbed beneath dark brows. "I shall punish her for this affair, you have my word!"

"As she was punished by you upon previous occasions?" Galiose demanded, his anger not lessened. "Look about yourself, man, and see how effective your punishments have proven to be! She has not obeyed you, nor shall she! The lash, I will wager, she shall obey! In any event, we shall soon see the testing of the matter." His eyes left Ceralt to come to the males who held me, and he ordered, "Escort the wench to the holding cells in my Palace, and have the guards see to her locking away."

"Galiose, I will not permit it," Ceralt growled low, his hand upon the High Seat’s arm. His light eyes, so startling in the dark of his face, had become hard and cold as they never before had been. Galiose’s fist left my hair, and he turned completely to Ceralt.

"Hunter, you presume too far upon my patience," said he, his voice as hard as Ceralt’s gaze. "The wench shall be lashed for her disobedience, and no further shall be spoken upon the matter."

Then Galiose walked from Ceralt, his bearing stiff, his head held high. A brief, glaring flash of anger was sent to me by Ceralt, then he followed the High Seat, his wide shoulders set in determination, yet no farther was I able to see, for the males who held me propelled me toward the dwelling of Galiose.

Through the sets of Hosta and Silla and Ranistard males was I taken, across the way lined with stones, and up the steps of smooth, pink stone, and within. The fingers of the males went deep into my arms as their anger hastened their pace, and roughly was I taken between them up the flights of steps within the dwelling.

No time was there to fully see the blue cloth upon the floor before the entrance, no time was there to frown at the silks upon the walls, no time was there to observe the startlement upon the features of males and city slave-women who stood about in uncertainty, astare at the males and the Hosta held between them.

To the first landing above was I hastened, a landing of many rooms for taking repose, to the second landing, a place of polished wood on walls, rooms with strange, unwholesome smells, and the like, to the third landing, a place of no floor coverings, bare stone walls, and rooms doored only with lines of metal.

It was there I had once before been placed, and it was there I was placed again, the lined metal being closed firmly upon me once the males had thrust me within a room’s confines. I stood straight with head held high as the males glared upon me, then when they had withdrawn, I walked to a wall of gray stone and sat myself before it.

Truly great was the anger of Galiose, yet I cared naught for the male and his anger. Twice before had I felt the touch of a lash, and still did memory of the flaming touch hold sway within me, yet was Jalav war leader of the Hosta. To no male would she show pain, to no male would she give obedience, for Midanna were warriors, not slave-women of the cities. Galiose would use his lash, and then would Jalav feign great fear and assure the male of future obedience.

When once the male’s back turned, Jalav would be gone, over the wall and to the south, to fetch the waiting clans of Midanna. Upon my return would Galiose learn the extent of my obedience, and should he live through the ensuing battle, great pleasure would I take in naming him sthuvad for my warriors’ enjoyment. A use tent would be his dwelling for many feyd, and should he also survive his use, he would then be given to the Harra, sister clan of the Hosta, who hold slaves as the Hosta did not.

Ceralt, too, would join Galiose in bondage, and never again would I lay eyes upon the accursed male. The pain came again to my middle, allowing in its distraction a memory of dark, unruly hair above light eyes, yet I thrust the memory from me, placing my shoulder to the gray stone of the wall as I bent to the ache in my middle. No further pain would Jalav be given, had said Ceralt, and Jalav, a fool truly made, had believed. Not again would Jalav heed a male’s false words.

Some few hind passed in the waiting, and I did naught save sit by the stone. A cloth-covered platform was there within the enclosure, of a sort called "bed" by those of the cities, yet would I have naught to do with such. Sleep is properly taken upon sleeping leather or bare ground, a thing unknown to those of the cities, yet were Hosta not of the cities. The enclosure contained no window, therefore I knew not what had befallen my warriors, and that disturbed me somewhat.

I had given them no word of my intentions, for surely most would have attempted to join me beneath the lash to promote their own escape, and I had no wish to see such. Escape would be brought to them through the pain of their war leader, and their pain was unnecessary to ask. None other had felt the touch of a lash and, Mida willing, none would need to do so.

Then came the sound of male footsteps, heavy upon the bare stone of the floor, and to the lined metal of the enclosure came Telion, his broad face angered, his eyes disturbed. He stood by the metal a moment to study me, then shook his great, red-gold-maned head.

"Never before have I seen so foolish a child," he growled, looking at me. "Have you any idea of the pass matters have been brought to, girl? Know you the trouble you have caused?"

"Telion may save his words for another," said I, turning my head from him. "Jalav finds no interest in the babblings of a male. "

"The babblings of a male!" Telion echoed with outrage, his large hands grasping the metal. "Truly meet would it be for a child such as Jalav to receive a sound hiding at the hands of this male! And so it would go, had Jalav not worse to come to her! Will you never find the good sense to avoid the lash?"

"All is as Mida wishes," I informed him, seeing him only from the corners of my eyes. "Should Mida wish it so, the lash shall be avoided."

Telion made a sound of disgust, and then removed his hands from the metal. "Your Mida sleeps soundly and does not hear your call, wench," said he, once more coldly angry. "The lash awaits you now, and shall not be avoided. Galiose has had your wenches bound in leather, till they have witnessed your punishment. Ceralt gave challenge to the High Seat for possession of your overly desirable body, and for that was seized by the High Seat’s guard. Galiose, in unexpected generosity, merely had him beaten somewhat before expelling him from the city in exile. Once you are lashed, you shall be given to another whom Galiose shall choose. "

"To no male shall Jalav be given!" I snarled, rising to my feet. "Jalav is no city slave-woman, to be given away at the whim of Galiose!"

"Jalav is female!" Telion shouted, lost again to his anger. "A black-haired, black-eyed female child too lovely to long go unclaimed by a man!"

With no further words, he removed the metal from before the door, and then took my arm to lead me forth. Silently we passed the males in leather and metal, and the eyes of those males found pleasure in the appearance of Jalav, yet the looks held more than mere pleasure and desire.

Jalav was to be given to a male for his use, and the eyes of the males imagined themselves as he to whom she was to be given. These males knew not the true meaning of taking a Hosta war leader, and I held my head high to scorn their foolishness. Let the chosen male of Galiose beware, for I would have none of him. Beside Telion did I stride, allowing my fury full rein, and therefore was I able to think of Ceralt not at all.

Again were there large numbers gathered before the dwelling of Galiose, yet had the fey grown clouded, Mida’s light grayed cold as it reached us. A murmur arose when Telion led me forth from the entrance, and many were the Midanna and males astare below the height of the steps.

Silla stood in great satisfaction, Hosta stood angrily bound in leather, males stood covered with grim approval, all eyes upon Jalav as her hair blew in the chill wind. Galiose and a hand of males stood to the left of the entrance, where a contrivance of wood had been erected, and to this contrivance Telion took me. The dark eyes of Galiose fell upon me as I approached.

"Pleased am I to see the matter nearly done," said he to a male who stood beside him. "We have little need now for distractions such as these." Then his eyes went to Telion. "She has been told?"

"Aye, Galiose," Telion nodded. "She has been told."

"Good," Galiose approved, also with a nod, and then those eyes came to me again. "Ceralt dared my displeasure once too often," said he, "and now he finds himself without city and without wench. You shall go to he whom I deem most suitable, for I shall have no further disobedience from you."

I folded my arms beneath my life sign, and returned Galiose look for look. "Jalav shall go to no male," I said. "Galiose shall one fey find himself sthuvad to Hosta warriors, and then shall he learn the foolishness of his actions. Jalav shall never be his to give."

Galiose looked amused. "Jalav is mine to give on the moment," he snorted. "Once the punishment is done, I shall make my decision. Take her to the frame, Telion, before the clouds empty upon us."

"How many is she to be given?" asked Telion, making no move to obey.

"The wench has earned twenty-five strokes," said Galiose in his deep voice. "She will receive what she has earned. Take her to the frame."

Without another word did Telion turn and walk off, making no effort to look again behind himself. Galiose watched him gone, disturbance of some kind in his eyes, then did he turn to the male who stood beside him.

"Relinor, take her to the frame," said Galiose. The male beside him nodded in obedience and grasped my arm, and then was I led to the contrivance of wood. Upon a base of heavy timber stood two high poles, one to each side of the base, yet were they forced to bend toward each other, so that they might be joined at their meeting place with heavy leather. Upon each of the poles had cuffs been placed, one to each pole, and no further adornments. The male Relinor pulled me to the base of the contrivance and upon it, then he saw to the fastening of my wrists within the cuffs.

As in Bellinard, where first I had learned the touch of a lash, I found myself unable to stand flat when cuffed. Surely those to be lashed were meant to have attained a greater height than I, though there were few Midanna who had my size. Perhaps it was males who were meant for the cuffs, yet had I, for the third time, come to such a pass.

Little time had I to note the smoothness of the wood beneath my toes, as though many feet had stood there before mine; Relinor captured my flying hair and brought it forward across my shoulders so that it might be knotted below my chin and give the lash no interference, then he stepped away from me. Already did my arms twinge from the strain of the cuffs, and the ice fingers in the wind reached to me and touched my blood to freezing, and then was I touched in another manner.

A gasp was forced from my throat as the lash set my back afire, and my hands clawed at the poles to which they were fastened as I rose yet higher on my toes to escape the flames. Worse, far worse, was the actuality than the memory, and I writhed in silent agony as a voice proclaimed, "One." A sound arose from the watching throng, a sound which rose about in waves, lapping with growls and shouts and peals of laughter.

Amid the noise the word "two" was lost, yet the stroke itself remained. A second trail of fire marked me, setting down in my flesh a guideway for agony to follow to my soul. Well marked did the trail become, and soon was the ache in my middle a mere nothing, easily overlooked and forgotten in the face of its larger kin of the lash. No sound did I allow to escape my lips, yet my body writhed and sought a means of relief, relief which would not soon appear.

Surely did I wish to cry out when no more than "eleven" was to be heard, yet I clung to the memory of being a warrior, and did no more than cry to Mida in my soul. The skies lit to sudden brilliance, blasting the ears with screaming sound, and then the tears of Mida struck together with "twelve," a blessing and damning at once admixed.

In some manner the remaining count advanced itself even in the face of Mida’s fury, all sounds from the throng lost to hearing as the rage of Mida roared about and upon those below her skies. The lashing done, still was I pelted by the rain and wind, and when at last I was permitted to crumple to the base of the contrivance, through merging sheets of rain and pain I saw that none had moved from their place. Nearly awash were Midanna and males, yet they stood braced against the winds, making no sounds, their eyes upon a Jalav who could no longer stand erect.

The male Relinor reached toward me where I lay upon the smooth base of wood, my cheek bruised by too rapid a fall, yet was he halted by Galiose, who slowly approached and knelt beside me. The tears of Mida covered his expressionless visage, and so, too, did they soak within his long, bound hair and blue covering. A moment he gazed upon me, a large guardsman with bloodied lash silent behind him, and then his arms reached toward me, to take me from the wood. Surely had I felt the touch I would have been shamed by voicing my pain, yet Mida spared me such. Quickly, softly, before the male, Mida touched me with darkness.