The scent of roasted meat wafted on the evening breeze.
Natir walked back and forth, serving the guests gathered around a table in an open yard next to a large campfire.
A fortnight had passed since she arrived at the village. For Natir, serving Cahal’s needs hadn’t gotten any easier with time as Joyce had assured her it would. Instead, she grew increasingly disgusted, especially as she realized that her daughter was getting more exposed to it each time.
Cahal, on the other hand, was already showing signs of boredom with his new property, but the less interest he expressed in Natir, the more pitying the looks she got from Joyce.
It baffled Natir. She could just feel that Joyce wasn’t telling her everything.
Then, that evening, Cahal ordered Natir to accompany him to a friend’s house to help with the service. Natir needed to take just one look at the clothes he told her to wear to figure out his intention: He wanted to show her off to his friends.
She wore a mere two pieces of red woolen fabric, one of which she wrapped over her chest for a bralette. The other she barely managed to tie by the tips of its edges around her hips. It was too short and open from one side. Dressed in so little fabric that she felt naked, Natir shivered in the nippy air.
She bent over to place a dish on the table. The man next to her offered a compliment as his hand snuck under her makeshift-skirt from behind, feeling her bottom and groping her thigh hard enough that it hurt. Natir pursed her lips and pretended it never happened; she quickly retreated away from the table.
Cahal called after her, “Natir, where are you going? Come back here. Come here.”
She stopped and shut her eyes bitterly before turning and walking back towards him.
Natir yelped when he pulled her in and seated her on his lap.
“Come, right, here. Let me feel those soft legs. Wooh! So warm! Sooo very warm! And it gets even warmer,” he settled his hand between her thighs and let it slowly slip inwards, “down here—”
She clenched her legs together.
“Isn’t it?” he insisted.
Realizing she’d made a mistake, her eyes darted everywhere, blinking like a frightened cat.
She quickly faked a playful smile and purred, “For your pleasure,” as she curved an arm around his shoulder and leaned her body against his chest.
Cahal turned to his friends. “That’s how you choose them.”
A man chuckled. “You choose your women by their legs?”
“By how warm their bodies get. I’m telling you, if she can’t make you feel the heat until you worry it’s going to melt inside of her then she’s not a woman worth keeping. And this one, oh, I swear this one is hiding a furnace in her gut, or is it in your ass, little fire? Hm? Tell us where you keep it. Don’t be shy.”
“You were just lucky.”
“Luck has nothing to do with it.”
“You were lucky. I saw you, you were going to cancel the deal. You didn’t even know what you were buying.”
“That sounds like Cahal, all right—”
Taken by surprise, they turned their heads and saw Alfred standing behind them.
“He never knows what he’s getting until he gets it,” Alfred finished. He approached the gathering and waved his arms. “What? Am I not invited?”
They chuckled nervously. “Of course.”
“What are you doing here?”
“Come have a drink with us.”
Alfred took himself a seat in front of Cahal. He wedged his elbows to the table, immediately dug into a dish and started clearing the meat off a deer’s rib.
Everyone had gone mute, as though they were waiting for him to speak.
With his mouth full and waving the rib in his hand, Alfred said, “This is really good. Who caught this deer?”
“I did,” one man said, “not far west of the stream. I had to put three arrows in it.”
“Good catch… So, what was it that I overheard you jerks talking about just now? Something about furnaces? Is someone here planning on becoming a baker?”
Cahal answered, “Hah! I was just telling them how fortunate I am that I’ve gotten myself such a fine woman. I swear she got a fire burning in her flesh, like a furnace.”
“Does she now?” Alfred took another rib from the dish of the man next to him.
“Oh, trust me, Alfred, this one is exceptional. Forget warming up the bed, by the time I’m done with her, it has gotten so hot, I can’t breathe! It’s like lying on a campfire.”
Chewing, Alfred nodded at him. “And? That’s important?”
“Well, of course it is. I can’t think of anything more important,” he joked aloud and toyed with Natir, who was having a hard time trying to keep the smile on her face. “She got to keep that fire burning, and burning, and burning, and then once she senses the right moment, she twists it like this—”
They laughed at his act.
“Yes, you all know what I’m talking about. Not one of you can last a moment after that. It takes a lot to keep a man happy, and a woman with cold feet just won’t cut it.”
“Is that so?” Alfred said blankly, eyeing Cahal. He wiped the fat off his mouth and reached his hand out to Natir. “Let me see.”
Silence fell on their gathering.
Natir hesitated, turning her face back and forth between the two men.
“Natir, isn’t it? It’s okay, come. I won’t put out your fire, I promise.”
She felt Cahal’s hold over her loosen, so she took the hint and slowly got up. Still hesitating, she kept stealing looks back at Cahal as she headed toward Alfred who grabbed her forearm and roughly pulled her down, seating her on his lap instead.
Right away, he sent his grease-tainted palm feeling her legs as his eyes were set on her face, causing her to look away with embarrassment.
“What do you say, hazel eyes? Mm?” He spanked her thigh, causing her to jerk from the surprise. “You think you got a fire burning inside of you? A little bit more than other women, perhaps?”
“I...I don’t know.”
“I never noticed. How do I compare? Sorry, I don’t know.”
Alfred kept his eyes on her for a little while and then turned to the others and joked, causing them to laugh. “Well then, I guess when it comes to women, that’s how you know it’s absolutely true… They never notice the things they’re blessed with the most because they are too busy envying what other women have! Isn’t that right? Right?”
He motioned her off of him but kept a firm grip on her wrist so that she stood beside him, unsure what to do.
He addressed Cahal, “So, this is how you’re marketing this one? With her fire? Now, why didn’t I think of that—?”
A shock ran through Natir as she figured out what was going on. Cahal wasn’t just showing her off; he was exhibiting her body to sell her for sex.
Alfred continued non-stop, “And I’m the one who was still stupidly going on and ooon about firm asses all this time! How stupid is that?”
They laughed, and someone commented, “Ass is good.”
“It is good,” he joked childishly, making funny faces, causing his audience to laugh. “It is very, very good… But it is also true that there are things more important than a woman with a fine ass. As we grow older, our fire grows colder… Our bellies, on the other hand, seem to just grow…! Maybe that’s how you can tell how much fire a man still has in him, by the size of his belly…! But we still do want sex… I mean, I’m assuming that you jerks still want it, am I right…? No? Who here doesn’t want it? You?”
“No, I do. I do.”
“Of course you do… You all do. But you can’t do it just as well anymore, can you? Just look at those big bellies. Come on, Drem, show them that belly of yours… Look at that. I can fit five piggies in there and there will still be room for some chicken… Now that’s a man with some cold, cold fire… Does he look like someone who will make a woman scream for more…? No, I don’t think that’s the kind of screaming we’ll be hearing coming from his house anytime soon… So, what do we do about it, then? Well, obviously, we can give up on sex!”
“No? Well then, we better go with Cahal’s advice and get ourselves some fine young women with enough fire for both.”
Surrounded by laughter, Alfred turned to Cahal. “You’re absolutely right. Brilliant. This is the best advice I’ve heard all month.”
Cahal raised his cup, laughing with the rest.
“Tell you what—”
Alfred let go of Natir’s wrist and got up. He arched his back and rubbed his hands on his stomach as if he had a belly.
“I got a big belly, too… Yes, you see it? You’re not the only ones… What are you laughing at…? So you see, I, too, can’t keep it going like I used to, because my fire has gone cold. So—”
Alfred raised a cup, signaling at Cahal with it and finished, “How about you share some of your good fortune with me?”
The laughter steadily died down until everyone had gone quiet.
Alfred shrugged. “Well…? I am sharing my good fortune with all of you, am I not?”
Cahal’s expression darkened. He peeked left and right as all eyes set on him.
Natir felt a chill run down her spine when their eyes met. Cahal’s gaze became so vicious, he looked as though he was chewing on his own heart.
He raised his cup and yelled in false joy, “What else did you think I bought her for?”
The dirty remarks and laughter rose again.
Natir was stunned. She didn’t know what to do. Before she could have seen any of it coming, she had gone from having an average day to a bad one, and now it had gone to the worst thing that could possibly happen.
Alfred emptied his cup, then, in a flash, he wrapped his arm around Natir’s legs and snatched her over his shoulder. He left with her in a hurry, giving Natir a spank on the hip and calling back, “See you jerks in the morning. I got a fire to start.”
* * *
“There you go,” Alfred trilled as he swung her down.
Her feet landed on the floor at last, but she was out of balance. Natir reeled sideways from the roughness of his motion until she got a hold of a pillar that aided her. She quickly turned towards him with lost eyes and a fist glued to her heaving chest, looking afraid.
Alfred watched her without saying anything. She spun around, taking in her surroundings, and when she looked back at him again, he was standing a mere foot away.
Caught off guard, Natir flinched, gasping, but her step back was small.
Smiling and staring into her eyes, Alfred reached out his hand and gently felt her cheek. He ran his thumb over her lips, caressing them, and made her spread her lips just a little apart.
He leaned in toward her face, as though he was going to kiss her, but then he whispered into her lips, “Wait here.”
Natir reached out her arm and opened her mouth to speak, but he had already left and shut the door behind him.
She remained standing still, waiting.
After a little while she began pacing around the room, and her eyes wandered over its contents.
As she’d been carried in on his shoulder, Natir hadn’t had the chance to see much of what the place looked like from the outside, but it was clear that it was very different from the rest of the village’s round houses.
It was a much larger structure with two floors and squared corners. The room she was brought into was at least three times the size of Cahal’s hut. It was warm, and it had a real bed, its own fireplace, all sorts of weapons and valuables, and tens of animals’ skins and furs on the bed, the walls and the floor.
Her eyes spotted something on a shelf.
The strange item stole her attention, causing her to freeze momentarily. She cocked her head to one side and stared at the item with true curiosity, trying to confirm her suspicion.
It was an oil lamp made of colored glass! It was her first time seeing one.
Very carefully, she ran the tips of her fingers over its surface then tenderly held it in her hands. It felt nothing like pottery and was exactly as the rumors she had heard, so smooth that nothing can hope to grasp a hold of its surface.
She put it back exactly as she had found it and sat on the bed with her hands tucked between her thighs, counting the moments.
She gazed down at the rich lambskin rug on the floor.
Natir hesitated at first, but then she went for it. She took off her shoes with the help of her toes. The old leather had marked her skin red, making her feet look dirty.
Very slowly she lowered her feet until they pressed firmly on the rug. A sigh almost escaped her mouth as she shut her eyes and tilted her head back.
The lambskin fleece felt unbelievably soft, thick, warm and rich. It was by far the nicest feeling that her pained feet had experienced in ages, and the fur under her thighs and hands felt just as nice.
A particularly beautiful piece to her side caught her eye. She took it onto her lap and ran her hands over the silky silver-wolf’s fur, admiring it, but then Natir’s expression darkened and she dropped her face as she recalled the look Cahal had given her earlier.
The unpleasant memory stirred vivid feelings in her chest. She was Cahal’s property. His slave. His woman. Yet Alfred snatched her from between his arms so easily and right before everybody’s eyes.
Natir couldn’t even begin to fathom the depth of the humiliation Cahal must be feeling right now, and the worst part of it was that fleeting moment when their eyes met:
The viciousness she saw in Cahal’s eyes.
The silent rage.
It was a scary side of him she had not seen before, and he had looked at her as though she were the one to blame for what happened.
Her hands balled into fists and she found herself holding the piece of fur strongly to herself when her thoughts drifted towards Aina.
Aina was in Cahal’s house at this very moment.
What if Cahal went back home drunk like he usually does? What if he poured out his wrath on Aina in her stead? What if…
The darkest thoughts ran through her mind, and it frightened her to her core.
The door opened.
Startled, Natir jumped to her feet. She noticed a moment too late that she was still holding the fur to her chest. She put it back quickly.
Alfred had returned, but with company.