I remember being spelled into an ever-deepening daze upon sleeping and waking. My body was weakened significantly. After having the leakage between my legs roughly wiped away in the blankets, I had been dressed by Zarcar in one of my favourite silver dresses. Then, while I was too numb to talk or even think straight, he took my hand and led me out of the Moon Tower into the War Tower across the city. He led me down blue stone steps and deposited me in a cell room lined by other barred blocks of stone.
I barely saw the time fly by, nor did the reality feel that present. I was dreaming, I was healing, I was changing. I felt everything and nothing all at once. Curses were horrid things when you were consumed by one. Zarcar closes the barred door while I walk to the end of the small cell, meekly consumed in his magic.
“Chyronex,” I hear Zarcar speak my name for the first time this morning as I sit on a cold stone bench, looking at his black hood swaying in the chill breeze of the dungeons, “These are private dungeons – not for the public,” I say nothing in return, “I’ll set your release later tonight when you can apologise for cursing the guard I set for you. Aspiring to practice murder is something I can’t leave alone, just like your pull on the moon. You need to control everything about yourself. If you’re to remain my guest in the Moon Tower – be grateful I can give you that small luxury. Think about what I’ve said and don’t hate me. I’m simply showing you how to survive this kind of war. Control, sweetheart, you need to learn boundaries about your magic and keep it contained... look at me now,” Zarcar pauses by the bars, watching me, I murmur nonsense to myself before lifting my head and catching his eyes inconsequentially, “...cease...” the whispered word breaks the curse.
My will becomes my own, slamming back into me.
“Wait!” I yell out and jump to my feet, running to the bars as he turns and wisps away – ignoring my plea. I grab the cell bars and lean my forehead against the cold iron, “You can’t defile me and then leave me in here to starve! Zarcar!” I see him turn a corner and he is gone up a spiral stair case, hesitating at the bottom step for a brief moment.
But then he is gone.
I look around and see nobody else in the War Tower dungeons. Five line either side. They’re clean, surprisingly. I glance down at my silver dress and a pair of sandals. I kick them off into the back of the cell, disgusted.
I start to pace.
Zarcar defiled me. He took my virginity. He had sex with me! I had wanted to – but then again, had I really?
“Bastard!” I hiss and continue to pace, up, down, around each wall.
What did he expect me to do, starve and break, giving into his will and culture? To kneel. He wanted me to kneel. To serve him. To worship him as the war trophy clung to that of the warlord.
I eventually sit on the cold bench at the back and hold my knees.
I had too many emotions and not enough information to work out what the purpose of Zarcar’s actions and words really were.
So, I sit and I contemplate every option under the Moon – knowing I will never know the real answer until Zarcar tells me the whole truth himself.
Many hours later, with the silence of this place driving me insane – I finally hear a door creak open from somewhere above. I hear grunting, the slither of chains and the boisterous talk of guards.
“...it won’t be long until the King assesses this piece of meat for his worth...”
“...we’ll be the greatest Kingdom in Aquar soon...”
“...always good for pay, huh?...”
“...pay and women. They love to fuck in war, it’s always good for a warm bed... Oi! Why did you stop? Move it!”
I jerk at the bark in that last part and then I hear multiple grunts as they pull someone along.
I hear some sort of menacing, broken chuckle and then a harsh cough as if the man they are hauling in can’t breathe. I press myself back into the corner of my cell as the soldiers finally come into view with their captive.
Skin and bones, but no bruises on the pale skin of this giant man who’s veins run blacker than blue-green. This prisoner was dressed in black, ripped britches... the uniform of Zarcar’s army. His eyes were hollow and barely flickered a once bright hazel but the pink lips were also cracked and bleeding. His head was shaved back roughly with dark patches of hair trying to grow through. He looked severely malnourished – kind of like how Zarcar no doubt wanted me to look by the end of today. Although that was an overstatement – this man was clearly a captive for years, so I could not compare.
“Which one?” one solider asks half-heartedly while one scans the cells by turning towards mine.
“You got to be kidding me,” the soldier grins as he sees my cowering form in the corner of the cell, “That whore priestess Zarcar claimed as his prize.”
“Oh, shit,” the second solider is just as amused.
The hazel eyed man doesn’t even turn to acknowledge me.
“You haven’t seen a woman this close... in what, 7 years?” one soldier is almost sympathetic until he actually spits in the prisoner’s face, “Here’s a favour,” the soldier jerks him to the cell next to mine.
With a turn of a key, the door opens and the prisoner is pressed through and kept in chains. He was dangerous, then – or maybe they didn’t care about being cruel. The captive walks to the end of his cell, wrists and ankles locked up – and he sits on the clean stones just under the bench while he watches the soldiers gloat.
“Hey, pretty thing,” one soldier goes to approach my bars, “You been naughty or what?”
I say nothing while his friend grips his arm and drags him along.
“Don’t be a fool, she’ll curse you if you look in to her silver blooded eyes,” the one wise solider but also the cruellest one who spit – takes the arm of his companion and drags him out.
I wait to breathe easy only when the guards have left completely.
With caution, I now watch the starved prisoner who faces his cell’s open bars but refuses to look at me.
“The King arrives tonight,” he speaks suddenly; in a little rasp, I barely hear him.
“...who are you?” I ask, hoping not to offend.
He finally turns his head to glance at me, the hazel eyes blazing even though the rest of him was so weak. He looks like the kind of man that was very handsome a long, long time ago. Now, he was old and deranged. A crazy look was burning in that gaze.
“Do I look that distasteful?” he asks, tightly, almost as if he might cry with rage but has no extra hydration to waste.
I say nothing for a while but eventually I feel the need to say, “Distasteful is the wrong word. Hungry and thirsty. I would complain of such things but now I can’t because of you,” I try to joke and he looks a little shocked by my attempt at humour. He looks away from me finally and I relax, “Did Zarcar do this to you?” My question gets a smirk out of him but nothing more.
“I see why they moved me in here,” the man speaks, finally, but now for some reason, he is offended, “They put you in a cell next to me to try and get me to open up.”
“What are you talking –”
“I only have reasons upon thousands of other reasons to kill a traitorous bitch like yourself,” I had no idea what he was talking about. Maybe he was delusional – he didn’t know me, so why did he assume my crimes?
Not only that, but he was wrong.
“You don’t even know my name,” I point out, “Before you call me a bitch, perhaps try and be acquainted to me first? You have no reason to judge me. What have I done to you? You are from their lands – you have a tattoo on your neck of a scaled mythological beast.”
“...myth-?” the prisoner chokes on the word and snaps his head to me, “What kind of Draconess are you?”
I shut my mouth.
What the hell was he talking about now, and why did the word sound so familiar?
“Do you have to ruin the surprise?” I hear Zarcar speak just as he appears from literally nowhere.
“Traitor!” the prisoner next to me snarls it out, scrambling to his feet he rushes the bars of the cell and glares down Zarcar.
“Bastard!” I scream out next, my face boiling red when I see my captor push his hood back. He raises a brow at me in question.
“I thought you quite enjoyed yourself last night,” Zarcar mentions while ignoring the delusional, crazy captive beside me. Clearly they knew each other, although aside from the tattoo I doubt they were related.
“You coerced my consent and then didn’t even delight in finishing me!” I stand up also and walk to the cell bars, “I will burn those daises when I see them next!”
“No need, I lifted the curse from them,” Zarcar holds up a hand and watches me intently, only gazing briefly at the angry captive beside us who has released the bars and has started to pace while listening.
“Why are you here, to gloat?” I ask.
“Change of plans, my King is arriving soon–”
"Your King?” the rasp of the captive next to me is in utter disgust of Zarcar’s chosen words.
“Yes. My King,” Zarcar finally turns to the prisoner next to me and they lock each other’s eyes, “Have you acknowledged the change or have you still refused a single meal, after all these years?”
“Why ask?” the starved man tries to chuckle but it sounds like it hurts to even try, “Every year you visit and my answer is the same. Enough about me. Interesting how it only took you 7 years to find one...” the man beside me tilts his head at me.
“There are more but they are smart enough to stay in the forests or the mountains in isolation,” Zarcar is flippant and I’m shocked when they both look at me.
“I suppose because I am a woman of magic and a mere pathetic slave, I shouldn’t bother to expect an answer about what in the Moon you’re speaking about?” I inquire, expecting Zarcar to dismiss me.
The man beside me looks utterly shocked.
“What did you just say?” he rasps, coming up to the bars separating us, looking wild eyed yet again, “...slave...” he turns to Zarcar, who smirks, “You made her your slave?”
“You’re not asking the right questions, cousin.”
“Cousin?” I catch onto that one word in haste, glaring at Zarcar, “He is your relative? You degraded your cousin... to imprisonment and starvation... for 7 years?” I almost yell.
“She knows nothing,” Zarcar adds, ignoring me and looking at his flipping cousin, “Not a single thing about it.”
“...I’m glad...” the hazel eyes turn to me, running over me to my feet, “You think you’re a witch.”
"Priestess of the Moon,” I growl, “Actually.”
“And I suppose Zar told you he steals the virginities of priestesses for power?” the cousin asks with humour, but when he sees my face pale – he glares at Zarcar, “...tell me you did not... you did... you fool... you fucking hypocritical fool – you haven’t even told her. What is your name?” he turns to me in a panic, “You need to know –”
The captive catches his breath... his eyes widen... and then he collapses in a heap as if hit by a force of nature. When I turn to Zarcar, he is holding up his hand from a silent spell.
“The King arrives tonight and officially announces his arrival tomorrow,” Zarcar speaks casually, “You’ll accompany me to a welcoming ball tonight, without complaint – won’t you, sweetheart?”
“But, you... you just,” I point to the collapsed cousin, “Why did you –?”
“I’ll need to tell you a few things about our future,” Zarcar starts to open the cell door, holding out a hand as if I’m a friend who’ll just take it.
All flirty, lusty interactions gone in this moment; I realise he is a man of business after he’s successfully defiled me.
“Aren’t I a slave?” I try to slide past him but he holds out an arm to bar me back in.
“Shoes,” he murmurs, quietly while looking over my shoulder at the sandals.
“I prefer nothing.”
“I don’t particularly care what you prefer, Chyronex.”
“A remarkably kind usurper you are,” I turn to my sandals and put them on before stalking to Zarcar again and slipping past him. He grabs my elbow and takes me from the dungeons with a neutral, plain expression. He gives nothing away.
Aside from the fact I am grateful I am being escorted out of the dungeons a bit earlier, I am curious about all this political nonsense I didn’t understand. Namely because no one would tell me anything and when the nameless cousin of Zarcar was about to speak truth – Zarcar knocked him out.
As Zarcar walks me back to the Moon Tower, I link my arm through his so he doesn’t have to handle my elbow so roughly in public. I lean into him and wait for him to acknowledge me. Eventually as we are walking through the crowds of Swendula, he does glance down for a moment; smirking.
“I am one very important slave, aren’t I?” I ask, sickly sweet to the vicious man who would imprison his own cousin for 7 years without a single meal. Clearly, we were talking about another sorcerer here, “What is a Draconess, Zarcar?”
“Later,” Zarcar growls, “I will explain at the ball.”
“It won’t end in another bath, will it?” I ask nonchalantly.
He says nothing except for a small laugh and his arm pulls me in a bit closer. It is a gentle pull, another lick of pretend kindness. Although my soul would shun the idea of pretend as Zarcar, so far, had been nothing but honest... other than secretive.
One could be a truth teller and still be full of secrets. Hence, he chose to speak such limited words in most instances.
“I can conclude from my dungeon stay that I learned patience,” I explain, coy as we near the tower after a few intense silent minutes of walking through the crowded city, “But I don’t know if obedience was made any more appealing.”
“It was a punishment plain and simple, to spurn you from the idea of murder – you are not allowed to entertain such thoughts as my... wife-slave,” he seems to find this very amusing as he broadly smiles, the tower now in sight as we head towards the garden at the base of it.
“You are awfully happy after visiting your cousin, I suppose you enjoy him contained in a cell?” I ask.
“It’s a game. You wouldn’t understand,” Zarcar shrugs off my mention of his cousin, in the oddest way...
“Tell me one thing I do not know.”
“It’ll cost you something,” Zarcar lets out a hint of sexuality as we pass the garden and enter the Library of Green.
“A taste of rain?” I ask, sour, “Perhaps you’ll want to rutt me again before the ball – I won’t allow it to happen twice, usurper. Your balls will be my earrings before I let you rutt me again.”
“Such a foul mouth,” Zarcar is playful with that statement as he pulls me up the spiral stair case, seemingly... happy.
I pry away from his arms as we reach the top floor of my tower and then I head to the bed chamber.
“A kiss,” Zarcar walks to the window we first met instead and I turn from the bedchamber door without opening it.
I see him watching the city with his back to me.
“For information?” I ask.
“Fine. Something about your cousin? I want to know who he is.”
“How disappointing, I thought you’d want to ask something about me,” Zarcar finally turns to face me with a slightly annoyed smile, “His name is Lixar.”
“...such a handsome name,” I smirk and Zarcar’s annoyed smile deepens.
“I won’t share, Chyronex,” Zarcar murmurs, reaching up a hand he curls his fingers, “That’s two things. I suppose you owe me two kisses now.”
“I do, I do,” I straighten my back and lift my chin, before prancing to him. Zarcar seems surprised by my eagerness as I jump onto my tip toes and I grab his neck.
I kiss one cheek and then the other before I try to pull back, but his arm slings around my waist.
“...the cheek of you,” Zarcar growls but doesn’t dive in for what he really expected, “I suppose I disappointed you last night.”
“You cursed me,” I mention, in a questioning whisper.
“It was a curse on truth,” Zarcar murmurs back, “I heightened yours. I knew you wanted me. I needed your power sooner.”
“You won’t get another kiss for telling me that,” I warn him, keeping a hand on his chest, “So you defiled me for your own selfish, impatient gain. I expected you to be one who takes all.”
“I know my worth,” Zarcar raises a brow, “I’m worth your worship. I know your kind, anyway... you love to worship,” he smirks at his play on words.
“So, am I your wife tonight or your pet?” I ask lightly, to avoid his words, as he often avoids mine.
“You are obsessed with titles, aren’t you, Chyronex?”
“I love to know my place,” I lie, because I didn’t believe I had a place but within nature and indeed – worshipping the moon. But to be truthful I wanted to know more about my place in Zarcar’s eyes.
“On my arm tonight,” Zarcar nods at me, “An escort again. This time we’re celebrating in the town square – outside under the moonlight. I don’t suppose that will satisfy you?”
“Maybe. But are you satisfied with last night?” I ask, “Are you empowered for sheathing your sword within me? I want to repeat clearly, I wasn’t finished when you were.”
“In time, I’ll reward you. Another thing, my beauty,” Zarcar leans in slowly now, until his lips breathe past my cheek and then rest on my ear, “We have some training to attend to after we’re done tonight,” Zarcar moves over to lightly kiss my cheek, then the tip of my nose.
“For?” I try not to grimace.
“Training on how you’ll kneel before the King tomorrow with me standing at your side as your Master and Keeper,” Zarcar pulls me in closer and I run my eyes over his serious lips and then his pulsing neck... perhaps if worse came to worse I could just rip his throat out with my teeth?
“My, my, I am important,” I whisper, “Tell me. What is a Draconess?”
“Now,” I beg, ignoring his narrowing eyes, “Please, tell me. What does time matter?”
“I’ll tell you when you’re ready,” Zarcar raises a brow, “I only reward good behaviour, don’t forget.”
“Rewards... huh... you didn’t have to curse me, you know,” I snap, “All you had to do was this,” I try to rub it in by leaning up and forcing my lips on his, leaving a hard, quick, pointless kiss. I move back and shrug roughly, “Easy, see?”
Zarcar’s eyes flash – animalistic and distracted by my lips on his.
He stares at my mouth and slowly moves in.
I expect him to kiss me and my breath catches. I hold his black gaze and hate myself for anticipating this moment to continue after I was thrown in a dungeon all day.
I was probably more insane than Lixar.
“In my land,” Zarcar murmurs, without kissing me, only to shock me with another debt paid for my quick kiss just before, so he now tells me, “A Draconess isn’t just a mythological creature; she’s a Queen, Chyronex. You never knew you were born one, but my kind can smell it,” he watches my eyes widen and he seals the empowering information with a degrading fact, “Now, you’re a Slave Queen and I’m training you to serve the King as his personal, owned and enslaved Draconess. My task is simply to teach you how to serve. I have my work cut out for me, that is for sure.”
“A Queen,” I am left breathless. I want to laugh in his face but my heart feels his truth.
“A Slave Queen,” he repeats.
“What happens to disobedient Slave Queens?” I whisper back, with barely any sound.
“They’re killed,” Zarcar’s tone catches and I see his eyes show an emotion I’ve never caught before.
He releases me a little roughly and walks around me to open the door to the bedchamber. I feel him pause as if he will say more, but then he walks into the chamber and I’m left staring out the window at the cloudless sky.
His admission shocks me but my mind fixates on one thought... one truth.
I was never a slave, not really. No matter how many times he tried to rub it in... it was a façade. It wasn’t real. It was a game of Master and Slave... correlating to my chance at life and death.
This whole time, Zarcar was training me to survive.