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The Beast of the Kings' Land

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Summary

Growing up in a culture where women have no roles beyond that of ornament or slave, Ishta is whipped by her father as part of a particularly gruesome marriage ritual. The northern barbarians have invaded the Empire, and to save what remains, her father has decided to offer her in marriage to their fiercest warrior, known as 'the Beast'. When she discovers that women are not treated equally everywhere, she seizes the opportunity to satisfy her thirst for revenge and to bring a ruthless father and a decadent empire to their knees.

Genre:
Romance / Adventure
Author:
Hiurda
Status:
Ongoing
Chapters:
29
Rating:
4.4 2 reviews
Age Rating:
18+

Chapter 1 - Betrothel

Ishta barely managed to hold back a yawn. Awakened at dawn by her maid, she had then spent eight hours preparing to be presentable. Twelve layers of clothing, thirty-two kilos of fabric and jewellery, and countless jars of cream and makeup later, she waited outside the throne room to be presented to her husband. The clock had already struck twice. Unable to sit down for fear of never being able to get up again, the only thing keeping her awake was excitement.

The eldest son of one of the largest families in the Austral Islands conglomerate, Sichuna Ning himself, had come to propose to her. She had met him as a child, and his grace and presence had left her speechless. So much so that she had only been able to stammer out a few clumsy phrases, while the boy, at the age of eight, had already spoken with such eloquence. For this she received one of the worst punishments of her childhood, the marks on her body took several months to disappear completely. One wonders how she could have made such a good impression that Ning appeared before the Emperor and asked to marry her.

The girl still couldn’t believe it. Her turn was coming so soon. In fifth place among the Petals of the Sha, Ishta still had two unmarried sisters ahead of her, including a descendant of the Rose herself. Had it not been for the Son of Sishuna explicit request for her hand in marriage, her wedding would have been at least three years away. For a noble daughter of the Saam’Raji, marriage was a consecration. A sign of her education and worth. Her two older sisters, already married, had attained great status. She saw them moving through the palace corridors, their eyes unvailed, their gait dignified. Unapproachable.

The clock struck a third time as the doors to the throne room finally opened and the Chamberlain’s voice rang out.

“Sha Ishta, Fifth Petal of the Saam’Raji, Descent of a Nettle, your Beloved Daughter.”

In a great silence, with only the sound of her footsteps, she began her journey through the throne room. Her mind focused on the ceremonial counting of steps, she had to take exactly one hundred and seventy-six of them. Not one more, not one less. With her veil of decency covering the upper half of her face to protect her modesty, this count would tell her when to stop and bow, keeping a ceremonial distance from the pedestal where her father sat.

Her eyes fixed on the duck-green carpet that brushed against her many long skirts, she fought her curiosity not to raise her head and ring the bells that weighed down her veil of decency, proving then that she would have committed an impaire. She felt the weight of all the court’s eyes added to the weight of her dress. It was not the moment to stumble and cover herself in shame. Every step was an agony, she had to keep a slow and dignified rhythm when she would have liked to run the hundred metres separating her from her future husband in one go.

When she finally saw the bottom of the merchant’s son’s robes, white and black, embroidered with silver dragons, she took another five steps and knelt before the throne, face down, hands clasped above her head, already dreading the moment when she would have to stand up.

“Glory to the King of kings, Great Wise One before the Eternals, Redeemer of mankind and my beloved father.” She proclaimed in a clear, loud voice so that everyone could hear her despite her awkward position.

The King of kings waved his hand and two maids came to help her up. She did so with as much grace and dignity as she could muster, then stood up straight, her eyes fixed on the toes of her own shoes. She didn’t know what made her more nervous, the weight of the dress or the fact that she couldn’t look at her future husband. So she revisited the memory she had of him. Slender and slim, his face was pointed and his soft emerald green eyes reached to the corners, features common to all inhabitants of the Austral Islands.

The Emperor’s deep voice echoed through the room, silencing all the murmurs in the court.

“Then, Son of Sichuna, is she not as delightful as I have described her to you?”

“Yes, Your Highness, in every way.” Ning’s voice was still as soft and enchanting as she remembered it. “But if I dared, I would tell you that all the beauty of an Austral woman is measured by the intensity of her eyes.”

A nervous whisper ran through the court, but the King of Kings laughed heartily.

“The fervour of youth, I suppose... Don’t forget that the women of Saam’Raji are far more civilised. None would dare face your gaze until they have completed their Vasheekaran.”

“Indeed, Highness, the docility of your women is legendary. And patience is one of my greatest qualities. What are a few months compared to a lifetime?”

The King of kings smiled in satisfaction. A lifetime... Ishta felt herself overcome with joy. It was only the thirty-two kilos of cloth and jewels that kept her from jumping up and down on the spot, and it took all her concentration not to raise her curious eyes... A whole life, she would have time to admire him…

The conversation lasted a few more minutes and then the King of kings confirmed the engagement of his daughter and the first son of the merchant family. Finally, to the applause of the court, she was allowed to leave. Ishta returned to her quarters in the women’s palace and imagined her future life…

The great hall of the Petal Suite had fallen into a solemn silence. Nishka, the Mother of Future Wives She was draped in the shawl of her office, her hair tied up in an immaculate braid. Decorated with gold rings and small coloured flowers in the fashion of the Empire, she was the very embodiment of dignity. She walked to the centre of the room and its pool, where Ishta and her twelve sisters were gathered.

Born fifth, Ishta was the third to pass her Vasheekaran. It was customary for girls to be married in the order of their birth. The stigma of the ritual was clearly visible on the backs of her two sisters who were already wives, exposed by the cut of their dresses.

Nishka took a stool and sat down in front of the girls, with a simple, elegant gesture she gracefully gathered the folds of her dress around her legs, twirling the slave design embroidered on the hem. The slight wrinkles between her eyebrows gave her a perpetually stern expression. She took a silver teapot from the tray beside her and began to pour tea for each of them. Slowly. Very slowly.

It was part of the ceremony, Ishta knew that. But that didn’t stop her, or her younger sisters for that matter, from getting excited. The opening ceremony, led by Nishka, brought six months of celebration to the women’s palace. Six months of huge feasts and music. Of course, it would be difficult for Ishta, who would only be able to take part in a small way because of her convalescence. But at the end of those six months, she will finally be able to admire her future husband... For the rest of her life.

She knew that the Vasheekaran was difficult and painful, but she couldn’t help but think that her elders were putting on airs with their hard expressions and pursed lips. Why was it that they were looking at her with such pity? Ning might not be a prince like their husbands, but he was the son of the greatest family in the Allied Empire, which was unexpected for a fifth rank princess like her!

Nishka filled the last of the cups and finally set the teapot down on its stand. Her face hardened as she took a deep breath.

“Sha Ishta, Petal of Saam’Raji, you appear before me today, childlike, wild, barbaric, ignorant of what makes a woman beautiful. Strange to the needs of men. Today your long education begins. Today you enter the civilised world. This journey shall last six months. Six months during which you will be taught the rules of propriety that you must know. Every lesson that you don’t have a grasp of will be etched on your skin by the lash of the whip. The whip will be wielded by the hand of the King of kings, the great sage before the Eternal, the redeemer of the people and your beloved father. The Vasheekaran will be complete when all the lessons have been learnt and the design chosen by the King of kings will be affixed in its entirety to your back. This design will be your crest and you will wear it with pride, for it will be the carnal proof of your education and refinement.”

The younger girls couldn’t help but look at their elders’ backs with envy. For her part, an ugly question went through the girl’s mind... If only badly learned lessons were marked by the whip, it was enough to learn everything well to avoid receiving a beating. But then she had no idea how the pattern was to be completed.

Her joy at the prospect of sharing special moments with him on a weekly basis soon overshadowed her questions. In her lifetime, Ishta had seen very little of her father. Now, at last, she would get to know this man that so many had admired. She would finally understand and be inspired by his greatness. The whipping was just a bad moment that had to pass. It would bring her so much in the end that she knew she could handle it. After all, men had their share of suffering too. At the end of their day of passage from child to adult, every man had to get a tattoo. The women often told her that the pain of the needle was almost unbearable. She was glad she didn’t have to go through that…

The ceremony continued with the recitation of the poems of “Propriety of the Female Child” and then the girls drank their tea in a joyful hubbub. The only black marks on the picture were Sha Eshita and Sha Baruna, their married sisters, who sipped their tea reluctantly, glaring at every burst of laughter. Why did they insist on spoiling their fun? Couldn’t they see that this was supposed to be a happy day?

The women’s palace was in an uproar. There was only one topic of conversation among the maids, but Ishta paid little attention to it. Another war... And this one wouldn’t even make history, so why bother? It would only take a matter of weeks for the disciplined armies of the Saam’Raji to repel the wretched incursions of the barbarians from the north. Especially since these half-beast men could only stand the northen cold, it was said. Under the suns of the Golden Land, this war would not last long.

She turned her thoughts to what lay ahead. Since the world of men was no place for female children, she had not been out of the women’s palace much. So she eagerly followed Nishka through the labyrinth of corridors.

Nishka led her out of the palace to the porter’s chair waiting for her outside. The journey to the Imperial Palace seemed to take forever. The heavy curtains obscured the landscape, leaving her little to do but listen to what they said. War again... Ishta didn’t understand why everyone was so eager to call it a war, when they all described it as unimportant skirmishes that were quickly hushed up.

Lost in her thoughts, she was surprised when the chair finally stopped in front of her father’s office building. The path to her study was a haze of socked feet, carpets and stairs that she didn’t even notice. Eyes glued to the floor for fear of meeting a man’s gaze and receiving a well-deserved punishment, she wondered what her father would teach her today. What were a woman’s duties, and how were they so different from the obedience and discretion of childhood? Would the King of kings be as proud and affectionate as he seemed at official functions?

When she reached the office door, Nishka stopped and did not move, apparently waiting for it to be opened. After a few minutes of waiting, Ishta wondered if she should call for a servant, but the corridor seemed to be empty. Was she supposed to knock on the office door? She tried to remember if she had been given instructions, but was sure not. She glanced at Nishka, but the Mother of Future Women stood with her back straight, her hands clasped in front of her thighs, her head and eyes lowered, the normal position of a dignified woman awaiting her orders. Ishta wanted to speak, but she remembered what Nishka had told her before she left.

“Apart from greeting the King of kings, never speak before your turn has come. A well-mannered woman is a patient and silent one.”

So she kept her questions to herself. The old woman surely knew what she was doing. And her time was certainly not as valuable as the Emperor’s.

The steward of the King of kings finally opened the door for them, but she couldn’t tell if it took him minutes or hours. Her neck was stiff from waiting bent over, and her knees trembled slightly as she took her first steps. Was Nishka so used to waiting that she didn’t seem to mind? The mother of future wives entered the room unperturbed, bowed and announced the princess.

“Oh, great King of kings, I bring you Sha Ishta, fifth Petal of the Saam’Raji, offspring of a Nettle, your beloved daughter.”

The moment had finally arrived! Ishta crossed the room with slow, calm steps, showing none of her excitement. At last she was going to learn from her father. At last, she was about to enter the most important phase of her life. She couldn’t have been happier. Arriving at his office, she bowed and offered her greetings.

“Glory to the King of kings, Great Wise One before the Eternals, Redeemer of the people and my beloved father”.

Silence... Had he heard her? But she did not move an inch. After a few moments, she heard her father’s handling of papers, the use of a quill for a moment, and then silence again. Finally, he spoke in a deep, powerful voice.

“Well, Lakshan, why don’t you send these to my uncle today, with any luck they will reach the front before tomorrow. Then you will go out. See that no one disturbs us. The child will receive her first punishment.

A hint of anger broke through the excitement. After all this time, had he just spoken to his servant as if she didn’t exist at all? As if, when he had called her, she hadn’t waited for him for hours? Had he called her child?

She didn’t have time to think about the answers to these questions. Two of the King’s personal guards grabbed her arms and pulled her into a corner of the room. A black sheet was spread out on the floor and two chains hung from the ceiling, her confused mind unable to comprehend what was happening, the guards tied each of her wrists to them.

What did he mean by punishment? How could she be punished before she had even made a mistake?

Behind her, she could hear her father cracking his whip on the black sheet, as if he were testing it.

CLACK!

Terror gripped her. She could not hold back her words.

“Father!” She bit her lip, but the damage was done. She had spoken without permission. What did it matter then? She might as well be punished, but understand.

“Father! Why? What have I done to displease you?”

CLAC!

The back of her dress was ripped by one of the guards. The sound of the fabric giving way echoed in her mind as terror coursed through her body. She burst into tears.

“Father?” Her voice was pleading.

Her legs gave way, cut off by the terror as a guard clamped a leather strap between her teeth.

“Lesson one: other than a greeting, you are not to speak until you have been given permission to do so.” Her father’s voice was calm, almost bored.

But would she have spoken if he hadn’t wanted to punish her for no reason?

Before she could get to it, a searing pain shot through her back. A howl of pain escaped her lips. She had not yet had time to realise what had happened when a second whip came down on her shoulders. Her vision blurred and there was only pain as her father delivered his third lash.

Ishta fainted at the fifth, or was it the sixth? Hanging by her wrists.

She vaguely regained consciousness as she fell to the floor, unceremoniously untied by the guards. She saw Nishka still on her knees. She had not moved a muscle since she had entered the room, her face bathed in tears. Concern gripped Ishta’s heart, the old woman had to pull herself together or she would be beaten with a stick. A dignified woman does not cry. But Ishta was already sinking back into unconsciousness...

It took several days for Ishta to regain full consciousness. Nishka’s care did little to alleviate her discomfort, and the fever that had made her delirious only made matters worse. The girl lay on her stomach for the better part of a week, regretting that she had not been able to sink back into unconsciousness. Awake, she could not escape the pain and thoughts. What had she failed to understand? What was it that she had missed? She must have overlooked something. What had she done wrong? Something didn’t make sense, but the pain prevented her from concentrating enough to find out what it was. Every time she questioned the mother of the future wives, she answered more or less the same thing, in a harsh tone but with a face full of sadness.

“Don’t worry so much, Petal of Sha. This is a man’s business, and your father is the most competent of them all. Just get well and get strong again. You will need it...”

So Ishta pushed her parasitic thoughts aside. Surely her father would explain everything when she could see him. Nishka had promised her that he would come and look after her. She had no doubt that everything would make sense then.

She was just swallowing a few spoonfuls of chicken broth from Nishka’s hand, when Ishvar, the king of kings, entered the room withoutwithout even announcing himself. The old woman put down the bowl of soup at once and bowed to the floor. Walking towards his daughter, who was struggling to get to her feet, the king did not even pretend to see her.

“Don’t get up, daughter of Mine.” He said in his deep voice.

He placed a cool hand on the uninjured part of Ishta’s back, forcing her to lie back down again. Caught off guard, she didn’t know whether to greet him or remain silent. Her deep wounds brought her back to her senses; if he wanted to hear her speak, he would have to ask for it. The lesson had been well learned.

She could hear her father rummaging around in a small chest next to the bed. He took out a small jar of ointment and opened it immediately. The king began gently applying the cream to his daughter’s wounds, a sweet smell of flowers wafting through the room. The violence with which he had wielded the whip was in stark contrast to the gentleness with which he now applied the ointment. Still, a burning sensation made her moan each time the balm touched the raw flesh. She held back her tears, but almost immediately the pain eased. Soon she could no longer feel the skin on her back where the ointment had been applied. The relief she felt made her sob. She prayed wholeheartedly that her father would not consider her crying an offence, but could do nothing to stop it. Why hadn’t Nishka applied the cream before? As if he had read her thoughts, the King of kings spoke.

“The flower that is used for this ointment is called the Suun’dima. It is not even a pretty flower, it is small, round and of an ugly greenish-grey colour, but it is very difficult to grow and is only administered by the Great Saints of Saam’Raji. This mixture removes pain, disinfects wounds and helps them to heal more quickly”.

His voice was as soft as his gestures.

“It is one of the most expensive products in the civilised world.” He continued.

But Ishta didn’t care how much the product cost at the moment, as long as her father kept applying it to her.

“The leaders of the world are trying to find out its secrets, you can’t imagine how many spies I’ve put to death to protect this knowledge...

His voice trailed off at the end and he added, almost in a whisper:

“But nothing is too expensive for my most beautiful petal of Sha... If you only knew how much it pains me to see you in this state...”

So her father did love her... And he obviously had no wish for her pain. But why would he hurt her then? The thought almost came out of her mouth, but she barely held it back. She had promised herself that she would not receive another lash for speaking without permission. Tears of frustration and rage slid down her cheeks, but not a sound escaped between her lips. Mistaking them for tears of pain, her father wiped them away with a tender gesture:

“Don’t worry, daughter of Mine, the pain will soon disappear and you can then sleep peacefully.”

Putting down the cream pot, he sat down on the edge of the bed and began caressing her head lovingly.

“The Vasheekaran is a cruel ritual, it is true, but it is necessary, my Petal. Women are wild by nature, the embodiment of chaos. You have not yet reached the age at which they fall into hysteria, so you do not see it.”

The King of kings lapsed into contemplative silence, Ishta could almost see his father’s memories flashing behind his eyes.

“And that is why the Vasheekaran is important!” His decisive tone surprised her, his full attention was on her again. “It intervenes before you go mad, instilling everything that makes you a graceful, desirable, obedient woman. My wish is only for your happiness, daughter of Mine. I want a good marriage for you, with a husband who will provide for you and be proud to hold you in his arms. To achieve this, you must become the most beautiful flower in my palace. Thanks to your Vasheekaran, you will have the most beautiful crest in the entire Golden Empire, no prouder husband will ever be seen than Sichuna Ning, I swear it”.

Leaning slightly towards her, he added in a tone of secrecy:

“Every stroke of the whip I inflict upon you pierces my heart, every crack of that accursed instrument splits my soul. I have no wish for your suffering, my sweet petal...”

Ishta’s heart sank as the man was on the verge of tears. Never before had she seen her father so deeply moved. The King of kings, the Great Wise One before the Eternals and the Redeemer of mankind was suffering for her. And who was she to question the wisdom of her father? To defy an ancestral ritual? In all civilised lands, were not the women of her people claimed by the men? What was a few weeks of pain compared to the prospect of being one of those women desired by the world? And his father’s ointment would only make it more bearable.

“Then,” he went on, “promise me that you will conduct yourself in an exemplary manner during this Vasheekaran, daughter of Mine. My father’s heart would not bear one more lash than is necessary for the crest. For my sake, my Petal, do not force me to be more cruel than the ritual demands. Will you do this for me, my sweet Petal? Will you promise me that you will not force me to discipline you any more than is necessary?”

Ishta’s throat tightened with emotion, how could she not agree to such a poignant request? She could no longer feel her back at all, and the genuine affection of her father warmed her bruised and battered heart. She nodded, but the movement of her head tore at the skin of her back, reawakening the pain.

Don’t move, daughter of Mine,” the King of kings said. “Answer me, let me hear the sweet sound of your voice.”

“Yes father, I promise.”

Her voice was hoarse from not speaking for so long, and her throat, tight with emotion, made it sharper than usual, but her father did not mind.

“Now, daughter of Mine, rest and eat well. You must regain your strength for our next lesson.”

The Emperor kissed her forehead, stood up and turned to the mother of the future wives, still kneeling on the floor:

“You will let me know when she is able to get up, woman.”

Without so much as a glance at her, he left the room.

Nishka finally got to her feet, picked up the bowl of broth and dipped the spoon back in.

“The soup is cold now, Petal of Sha, would you like me to heat it up?”

But Ishta paid no more attention to the question than to the old woman’s surprisingly gentle tone.

“My father really does love me...”

“That is what he said, indeed...”

Nor did she see the single tear of regret that rolled down the cheek of the mother of the future wives.

For a great, wise man like him, for his genuine love for her, and for his integrity, she would endure every lash and grow from it.

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