I could not see it when I was around him, or in the stories I had heard. So, I was now hunting for the truth. My friends Kendra and Salt were dressed in brown, murky dresses to fit in with the working women of the common streets. We walk together with our hair braided and our arms embraced at the elbows.
“This way,” Kendra leads us, “I’ve been watching him for weeks now from this tavern garden.”
“Do you think the gossip is really true?” Salt asks with a quiet shrilly voice that was too cute.
“He is just a man hiding behind lies upon lies upon lies,” I snap.
“Don’t be so bitter,” Kendra shakes her head at me, “Zarcar is either everything they say, or everything not said, or both. Your change worries me, Nexy.”
“What change, I have not changed!”
“You’ve lost all connection,” Kendra challenges me, “He confuses you. No one ever confuses you.”
“Chyronex,” Salt is only twelve and she’s always looked up to me as a mentor, she looks up at me now with wide amber eyes, “Do you think we’re all going to burn?”
Kendra has led us to the tavern gardens, and with Salt’s words, she pulls her aside into a booth of wooden chairs, slapping a hand over her mouth.
“Do not utter those words again,” Kendra hisses at her.
“What does she speak of?” I ask, confused.
“A new female...” Kendra gulps and avoids my eyes before I grab her wrist and force her to tell me, “A new moon guide, from Zarcar’s army. She is his little slave. Andoll, she... well... she whispers every night around town that the priestesses will all burn,” Kendra rolls her eyes, “It’s all utter nonsense. She’s crazy.”
“What do you mean... his slave?” I ask, “Andoll?”
“Do not believe it, please,” Kendra begs me, “Not you too...”
I glance between Kendra and Salt who watches me, eager for my reassurance.
“I do not understand why our city is being overrun by this army,” I explain, shrugging, “But I do know I will not allow harm to come our way, I promise,” I nod to Salt, glancing at Kendra, “What do you truly think of Zarcar?”
“Unreadable because he keeps to himself about everything personal,” Kendra takes a seat and motions through the shrub next to us, which leads to a meeting square in the centre of the city, “He trains his army here once a week to intimidate,” Kendra explains, “I watch and try to learn while I drink ale and then something stronger. I hate violence.”
“Violence isn’t bad when necessary,” I murmur, one of my sayings.
Salt giggles. Kendra glares at me.
“You’ll do well not to believe in nonsense like that,” Kendra growls at me.
“Shut up, a sun priestess will always cower from a fight.”
“We negotiate,” Kendra snaps.
“Well I fight,” I snap back.
“Will you fight him?” Salt asks me, nodding through the bushes, “Zarcar?”
I turn my head and my eyes widen. I see him. There he is, and again, he looks different. This time, his black cape is gone. He is bare chested, holding a sword in either hand as he leads a huge tirade of soldiers.
My mouth gapes as Zarcar strolls forward with a portion of his army. Kendra watches me suspiciously.
“I see the problem with Nexy,” Kendra does not sound impressed while using my pathetic nickname.
“What is it?” Salt inquires.
“She is smitten-”
“I am not!” I snap back and turn to Kendra with red cheeks, “I- I am not so, how dare you accuse me of something so... low. I am not -”
“You are,” Salt points at my cheeks, “I see it in your colour, you’re in love with the war lord!”
“A sorcerer,” Kendra corrects.
“A master of witches, I hear,” I try to change the topic, gulping down my embarrassment at such a horrible accusation, “I suppose that is why Andoll is his slave.”
Kendra watches me and lets some silence do the work for her. When I can not look into her judging eyes any longer, I look away and glance out to the enemy. Zarcar is standing in front of his battalion, instructing them on how to swing their swords.
“...look at them,” I scoff.
“You should, instead of staring right through Zarcar’s trousers,” Kendra smiles, “I am just kidding, Nexy.”
I turn to her in complete shock. I cross my arms over my chest and refuse to look at the training army any longer.
“Shut that sly mouth before you say something you regret,” I warn Kendra while Salt grins at my emotional state.
“You are so silly,” Salt reaches for a bud in the plant, picking it out and growing it within her hand until the daisy opens. She puts it on the table, “Take this flower for good luck.”
“What did you whisper over it?” I ask, taking it.
“A love spell,” Salt whispers.
“You did not!” Kendra snaps at her.
“Salt,” I growl, keeping my eyes downcast on the daisy, “Please tell me you are crafting lies...”
Just as that happens, a huge crunch and smack from a sword comes splitting through the wooden pot of herbs. A bunch of soldiers murmur their apologies and I watch as the handle is jerked up... a man takes the sword out of the wood.
“Ladies?” I hear the drawl and look up to see none other than Zarcar himself, holding the sword and looking right at me, “...huh,” after a small pause, he recognises me but he doesn’t wait for me to respond. He then turns and walks off while sweat drips down a sculpted back of pure muscle.
“Damn you, Salt!” I hiss at her and see Kendra with a hand over her lips, hiding her huge grin, “I am cursed!”
“It was not a curse,” Salt yells at me, “Love is no curse.”
“How would you know?” I ask, not knowing myself but choosing to speak down to her.
Salt’s smile drops and she crosses her arms over her chest.
“Sulk in your tower,” Kendra dismisses me, “You look ready to run, anyway.”
“Ale?” a bartender puts drinks on the table.
“Thank you,” Kendra takes two for herself, Salt takes a small one.
I grab a cup to myself, sniffing the liquid. I put it down with a scowl.
“Piss,” I snap.
“Sour too,” Kendra accuses me, “So will you run or stay?”
I pick up a splintered piece of wood to distract myself, and after fiddling with it for a few seconds, a sharp piece cuts my skin and my rare temper rises. I stand up and look over the slaughtered bush.
“Look at the mess you’ve made!” I call out to Zarcar, who’s back is to me as he helps one of the soldier’s with their swing.
As he looks over his shoulder, I wait for Zarcar to stroll over. Oh, he does. As I expect him too. I point to the mess of splintered wood on our table. Zarcar glances down at it, two swords still in each hand. He meets my eyes and holds my gaze for a moment.
“Please keep quiet while I train.”
He swivels around and I don’t hesitate to react to his dismissal. I throw my full cup of ale at his back.
“Nexy!” Kendra yells at me, gawking. Salt bursts out laughing and I slip off my seat, picking up my dress and running into the crowd.
I run away like a child. Not because I am one, but rather I am confused by my impulses.
I don’t get far when a soldier I try to slip past, grabs my elbow and swings me around. Holding me steady, I see Zarcar approach me quickly. All the soldiers have stopped training, in fact, most of the civilians walking around minding their own business – are no longer ignoring the scene I’ve caused.
“A priestess who does not leave her tower?” Zarcar mocks while keeping in his anger, which he has turned into something else, “Interesting.”
I watch as he grabs a chair from the tavern, dragging it over to a common path, he slams his boot down onto the seat and motions the soldier closer.
“Hold her over my knee,” Zarcar waits for my deliverance.
“No!” I shriek out and try to fight but can’t quite loosen the vice like grip on my elbows.
As I’m dragged forward and shoved down, I feel my stomach pressing against Zarcar’s hard leather clad thigh – and before I can struggle further... my dress is yanked up. I thought he would beat me, but I’m starting to think this is going to be worse.
I am still and frozen when his hand smacks my bare ass, not once – by three damn times! I shriek in defiance the entire length that I’m being spanked, “Don’t you – dare! You stupid man! Animal! Bastard!"
I feel Zarcar grab my hair once he is done and he jerks me up, my dress falling back to cover me. I grab his wrist with my hands as he forces me to look at him. As Zarcar towers over me, he slowly leans in to my face.
“I see now you’re quiet,” he drawls while looking into my startled eyes.
I try not think of a response, but I pause when I see him make another decision. Zarcar leans in even further to place a mocking kiss on my forehead before letting me go.
I stumble back a few steps while he grins and turns around to a horde of laughing soldiers. I turn to see Kendra with her mouth covered. Salt is laughing her head off.
The crowd of civilians chuckle under their breaths while some husbands tap their wives on the bum as a joke, making the wives either blush or slap them back.
“I hope you learnt your lesson,” the soldier that delivered me to Zarcar rubs it in, and I finally find my feet.
I ignore the comment and instead run from the crowd, feeling my heart beat out of my chest. I was just spanked in public! But my stupid mind was only focusing on the other thing...
...my skin tingled with the kiss Zarcar placed hard and fast, like a brand.
I feel bloody cursed by the way my mind is scrambled with incoherent thoughts. It makes me angry.
Tomorrow I would face the bastard; and I would find a way to reverse the rules of whatever game he thought he was playing at!