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A Tempest of Lies
Copyright A Strange Geek, 2010
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Story codes: MF, Mf, Ff, fsolo, Mdom, toys, bd, magic, oral
"We may be nearly there, Amanda," said Gedric. "The path is definitely sloping downward, and I can see a beach ahead."
Amanda said nothing as she stumbled along behind him, for she was afraid her voice would reveal her distress and slow him down. They could not afford any delays now; she was sure Mandas and Norlan realized Gedric had not taken the expected route. For all she knew, they were alerted early and now lay in wait.
The path was little more than a narrow trail following the edge of the ridge. Enough brine from the sea had salted the ground to prevent much from growing thus leaving the path clear, but the muddy ground threatened to send her plunging into the ocean. Large rocks loosed by sea and rain lay partially buried in the soft earth where they bruised and cut her feet; the trail behind her was occasionally dotted with her blood.
Her knees and hips ached from the gyrations she endured to keep her balance and match Gedric's quickening pace. She was grateful he had warned her about the slope of the path, yet she nearly stumbled into him anyway. He slowed and glanced behind him. "Are you all right?"
"Fine," Amanda lied in a breathless voice.
"Do we need to pause? I did not realize until now what this ground must be doing to your bare feet."
"No, don't stop!" Amanda cried. "Please, not if we're almost there. Just keep going, Master, please."
Gedric nodded and resumed. He raised the lantern, its light dimming with its dwindling oil supply. "Yes, I definitely see a beach. And over on the right! Is that not a ship at the pier?"
Amanda turned her attention from the path as much as she dared. As the moon emerged from behind a cloud and cast a pale radiance upon the beach, her heart leapt. Yes, there was a ship! A rather small one, but it was real.
"We may just make the escape that Mandas never intended us to make!" Gedric boomed. The confidence in his voice helped lift Amanda's spirits and made it easier to push through the blistering pain of her feet.
The beach seemed to rise to meet them as they scrambled down the last of the slope, so steep as to be one-way. Gedric caught her arm and saved her from a dive to the ground when she stumbled the final few steps. Finally, her feet stepped onto cool, soft sand, and she fought the urge to collapse. Instead, she lifted her head and looked around.
Not far away was a small shack just past a unlit torch. The remains of a campfire lay between it and the pier. For a worried moment, she thought the place was abandoned, the ship no more than an old schooner which had run aground. She held out lingering hope only when a man approached from the ship.
Gedric motioned for Amanda to remain still and stepped forward. Amanda was content to let him lead, but she edged closer so she could hear. As he approached, the man leaned to the side to look past Gedric, and his lips twisted into a lecherous grin which made Amanda's skin crawl.
"Heh, so that Norlan bloke really delivered," the man said. "Wasn't so sure considerin' how long we've been waitin'."
"Did you say Norlan?" Gedric said.
"Yeah, the guy I did the deal with."
"A somewhat rotund man, slightly shorter than me, with dark hair and a beard?"
The man smirked and shook his head. "Naw. Scrawny guy with one of 'em silly mustaches the Urisi high-borns like ta wear."
"As I thought," Gedric said with contempt in his voice. "A political scheme from the start. No matter. I and this girl are, I believe, your intended 'cargo.' I am Gedric V'riis, and this girl is Amanda, my slave."
"Riddon Ollo," said the merchant. "An' I don't partic'larly care what yer names are. And I think ya mean my slave." He peered at Amanda. "Hey, what happened ta her? Ah, never mind. We can clean 'er up. So long as she's got a mouth and a pussy we're good."
Gedric frowned. "I beg your pardon? What is this?"
"That's the deal, pretty-boy," Riddon drawled. "We carry you, we fuck her."
"I do not know who you think you were dealing with before, but--"
Amanda rushed up. "Master, it's okay. I ..." She looked at Riddon and somehow suppressed a shudder in revulsion. "I-I can do it. I can be their slave while they take us to--"
"Ya ain't gettin' this, neither of ya," Riddon growled, poking a meaty finger at Amanda. "She's ours. We get ta keep her. I don't give a rat's arse what you wanna do or where you wanna go. We'll handle that. But ya ain't goin' nowhere with her."
Amanda looked stricken, and she clung to Gedric's arm. Please, do something, she silently begged. Please make this better. Please fix this. I don't have any more ideas.
"And what can I do to convince you otherwise?" Gedric said.
"Gimme the three thousand platinum I took off the orig'nal price in exchange fer the girl and I'll consider it. Though we'll still wanna sample the goods fer a bit if ya know what I mean."
"I have connections. I can procure those funds for you once I am back in--"
Riddon shook his head and prodded his finger against Gedric's chest. "Three thousand right now. I don't do this carry-now cash-later bilge. If ya can't pay now, then either we get the girl, or ya can all jus' stay right on this beach."
Amanda blinked away tears and bit her lip to stop from sobbing. Gedric glanced at her, and his own eyes glistened. He turned back to Riddon. "I will require a few moments. In private."
Riddon raised an eyebrow but backed away. "Jus' don't take too long. We gotta get underway."
Gedric took Amanda aside. She lowered her head, tears dripping to the sand. "Amanda, I am sorry. I had no idea what this bastard Mandas had planned." He paused. "I cannot see myself turning you over to them. But I do not want to--"
"Go," Amanda said in a choked voice.
Gedric hesitated. His hands squeezed Amanda's shoulders.
"P-please, just go with them," Amanda said.
"Amanda, look at me."
Amanda forced herself to raise her head. Wet streaks trailed down her cheeks, and her dark eyes brimmed. "You have to go."
"I do not know if they will accept leaving you behind."
"You have to try. You have to get away."
Gedric ran a hand through his already disheveled hair. "I should not feel this protective of a slave. But ... I also find I am having trouble thinking of you as a slave."
Amanda gasped and threw her arms around him. Gedric hesitated only a heartbeat before he returned the embrace, breathing a heartfelt sigh into her ear.
Suddenly, Amanda broke off the hug and whipped her head towards the other end of the beach, just in time to see a flicker of lantern light. Gedric turned and heard what Amanda had: the faint neighing of horses and shouts of men.
"You have to go, now!" Amanda cried.
Gedric nodded and drew back. "I will not forget this, Amanda. If I have any power or influence at all remaining in Oceanus, I will find some way of getting you out of the Urisi Nation."
Amanda gave him a weak smile and wiped away tears. His words meant much to her despite what little substance they carried. She doubted not his sincerity but reality. She finally understood that no escape could exist for her. She felt not so much at the mercy of the Urisi as the Inonni, who put her in this plight. She could at least have the satisfaction of denying them more prey.
Gedric took one last look at her, his own eyes glistening. He ran to the pier, where Riddon cast a wary look at him.
"There is a change of plans," said Gedric. "I am going. The girl is staying."
"Hang about, ya can't do that!"
"It is either me, or the deal is off."
Riddon laughed. "Like ya think I'm gonna give the money back? Ya gonna fight it outta me or sumthing? You and what army?"
The shouts of men and squelching of many footsteps slogging through mud drifted to the pier. Gedric looked back and his heart lurched. Amanda looked so small and vulnerable, yet he also felt renewed admiration. A punishment of a ferocity he could not even begin to contemplate awaited her, and yet she did not flinch. He felt the need to race to her protection, but he knew he would surely die in the attempt, and all her sacrifice would be for naught.
He looked back to Riddon, who now stared at the other end of the beach with quivering eyes.
"That army!" Gedric cried. "Men of the Royal Guard, likely accompanying the man who hired you. Perhaps you would like to tell them how you plan to renege on this deal!"
Riddon scowled, though the look in his eyes betrayed his suspicion he was being hoodwinked. Gedric gambled these men had hauled enough illegal goods to want to avoid attracting any more trouble. "Fine. Get yer arse on the ship."
Gedric rushed down the pier, Riddon quick on his heels shouting orders to his men. The moment his feet hit the deck, the anchor was hauled up. Another of his crew stood before the main mast and opened a jar made of Mage Glass. The trapped Mage Wind roared forth, and the sails billowed out. The schooner pitched forward and pulled away from the pier.
Amanda watched in silence. Her cheeks were stained but dry. She had no more need for tears. Even as she heard people swarming like an angry mob behind her, she felt an odd sense of calm. She had done something they could not take away no matter how hard they punished her.
She hoped word got back to Jollis. She hoped it made him angry as blazing hellfire. She hoped it hurt him at least as much as he had hurt her. No, she hoped it hurt him more.
Two soldiers streamed around her, brandishing loaded crossbows, the breeze they stirred blowing strands of hair before her eyes. They raced to the pier, but another burst of enchanted wind took their prey out of arrow range. "It's too late, my Lord!" one called back.
Amanda heard footfalls stop behind her. "Amanda."
She whirled around on her heel at once and looked up at Norlan. "Yes, Master."
"Do you realize what you just did?" Norlan said in a voice of dead calm.
"Yes, Master, this slave understands what she did."
"And now you mock me by acting as if you are a normal slave."
"This slave is sorry, Master."
"No, you are not, and that is your problem. You are never sorry for anything you do. You are not sorry you have ended the careers of two men. You are not sorry for casting a deep rift between two powerful nations. You are not sorry for any of it."
Amanda paused for a long moment, then nodded. "Yes, Master, you're right," she said in a neutral voice.
Norlan let out a controlled breath. His hands clenched at his sides. "And that is my fault."
Amanda tilted her head.
"My fault for purchasing you. My fault for thinking I could train you. My fault for thinking I could keep you as a trophy who would act the part of a slave and yet remain special. My fault for thinking you could ever be stopped from doing exactly what you wanted to do."
Amanda had no idea how to respond or even if she should try.
Norlan slowly unclenched his hands. He looked about to say something, but another shout rose behind him. Norlan turned, and Amanda dared a peek around him. A man ran down the beach, the only one whose footwear was not caked with mud and dirt, accompanied by a third soldier. Amanda recognized him when he drew close as High Lord Ardon.
"You have the slave girl!" he cried as he stopped before Norlan. "You stopped them?"
"No, my Lord," said Norlan in an even voice.
Ardon's eyes widened. Amanda thought she saw fear in them. "What? But the slave girl is--"
"She stayed behind. She accomplished her aim, which was to allow the Oceanus Fleet Captain to escape."
Ardon gave Norlan a pained and helpless look, then glanced out towards the sea.
Amanda's gaze followed his. The schooner was just barely visible through the mist rolling in from the deep sea, the moonlight growing hazy. She started to turn her gaze forward.
Suddenly her head snapped around the other way, and she fell hard to the sand. Her head swam, and something trickled down her chin. She wiped it with the side of her hand, which came away streaked with blood. Only then did she feel the sting of her split lip.
Hands grabbed her shoulders and yanked her to her feet, then shook her with such force she grayed out. "Get up you bitch!" Ardon screamed, spittle splashing her face. Her head whipped to the side as he backhanded her again. Pain flared white-hot where one of his rings cut her cheek. "DO YOU REALIZE WHAT YOU'VE DONE, YOU STUPID CUNT?!"
Amanda steeled herself against another blow, closing her eyes so tight the darkness inside her eyelids sparkled. When only a grunting noise came instead, she dared to open them.
Ardon still held her by one shoulder, his other arm drawn back, the hand curled into a fist shaking to be released. Norlan held it just below the wrist. "Let go of me, Norlan, you spineless idiot," Ardon hissed.
Instead, Norlan drew back the fist until Ardon was forced to relinquish his hold on Amanda. She did not bother to wipe the trickle of blood down her cheek as she watched the two men face each other, Norlan now holding both of Ardon's shaking arms.
"You will unhand me at once," Ardon ordered in a cold voice.
"You will not strike my slave -- my property -- again," Norlan said in an equally chilly tone.
"I said unhand me! SOLDIERS! GET HIM OFF ME!" Ardon screeched.
"They will do nothing."
Amanda slowly looked around. The soldiers watched the tableau with curiosity, making no move to assist the High Lord.
"I have so far committed no grievous acts upon you, my Lord," said Norlan. "But they saw you attempt to damage my property and saw me defend it. They know you are in the wrong, not me."
Ardon stopped struggling. Slowly, Norlan let go. The High Lord cast a look of contempt at first Amanda and then Norlan. "I have always said you are soft on your slaves, Norlan. Now look what has come of it! I will see to it she is punished. Somehow, I will see to it."
"Only if you come to own her, my Lord. And I doubt you will wish to make such a purchase."
Ardon stared, his mouth working as if he were trying to force the words out. He whirled around at a noise at the end of the beach and thrust his finger towards the approaching figure. "That is the traitor! That is the one who would scheme against the nation for his own gain! Soldiers, arrest him! ARREST HIM!"
And again, the soldiers did nothing. They did not see a criminal walking towards them, but a respected Lord Ambassador. Mandas slowed his pace and tensed at the shouted accusation, but when no accosted him, he recovered his stride and sense of purpose. He saw the empty pier, Amanda, and the distinct lack of Gedric and surmised what had happened. "My Lord, you seem distraught," he said in a silky voice. "I am as appalled by this turn of events as you are. I rushed right along your heels to prevent this, and I am sorry I failed to arrive in time."
"We know of your plans, Mandas," Norlan said in a low voice that was almost a growl. "We know you orchestrated everything."
Mandas' eyes darted. Again, the soldiers did not advance. "I have no idea what you are talking about, Norlan. Surely you do not believe I would have anything to do with this?"
"We know of the orders you gave the carriage driver. We know of the plan for escape you instigated. We know of--"
"And do you offer proof of these ludicrous allegations?" Mandas snapped. "Do you have documentation in my name? Do you have funds acquired for this scheme in my name? Do you have anyone you can interrogate who will spill my name from his lips?" His eyes fell on Amanda, and his lips twisted into a smirk. "Or are you basing this on the fantasies of an ill-trained slave girl?"
Amanda maintained a level gaze with him. She felt a small measure of satisfaction when she saw the brief look of blazing anger in his eyes.
Norlan suddenly surged forward, his hands clenched into fists. Now the soldiers tensed, and a few drifted closer. Norlan kept his hands at his sides, but fear flickered in Mandas' eyes. "Stop it," Norlan said through clenched teeth. "You cannot save yourself. Once the King hears, we are both finished."
Mandas' eyes shimmered, but he said nothing.
"You can at least salvage the relations between the Urisi Nation and Oceanus. You can tell us where you sent that ship to its supposed rendezvous."
Mandas narrowed his eyes. "I have told you before, I have no idea what--"
"You could not have possibly arranged for a real pickup with another ship. The ship which just sailed away with Gedric is going to a rendezvous with no one. We can still intercept them, but we need to know where they are going!"
"Tell us, damn you!" Ardon shouted.
Amanda swallowed. Of course there would be no second pickup. But did that matter? What would be the point of bringing Gedric back? No, Gedric was a Fleet Captain. He could work for them. He could share his naval experience. With him on board, the merchants could do a very successful black market business. Gedric would still be safe. She had to believe that.
But now Mandas wavered. She understood. He was caught between doing something right for his nation and saving as much of his own hide as possible. As Amanda had hoped, Mandas was more interested in his own safety than that of a nation.
Mandas thumped his cane against the sand. "I will not tolerate these insults any longer, no matter from what high quarters they originate. With all due respect, High Lord, I will be filing a grievance with the High Lord Council over this treatment. I will not be subjected to baseless accusations." His gaze narrowed on Norlan. "Yes, we may both fall when the King is apprised of this incident, but I will not implicate myself in such a fantastic scheme just to ease the conscience of an unqualified and uncultured oaf."
He spun on his heel, nearly stumbling on the soft sand, and stalked back towards the end of the beach.
Norlan quickly rounded on Ardon when it appeared the High Lord was about to vent more of his renewed rage upon Amanda. "I would suggest, my Lord, that you direct your remaining ire towards the true conspirator and not my slave."
Ardon cast one last murderous look at Amanda before he finally turned away and headed down the beach. He gestured, and the soldiers gathered behind him and followed.
Norlan stepped up to Amanda. "I will see to it your wounds are tended to once we arrive back at my palace."
Amanda said nothing and simply looked up at him. She had fallen back into the role of the proper slave, if for no other reason than it might irritate him more. She no longer cared what punishment he could bestow upon her. Even the pain throbbing on her face, lips, and feet mattered not.
He reached into a pocket and pulled out the speech-stealing potion. Amanda flinched and trembled, but otherwise remained still. Norlan stared into her eyes and slowly sighed.
"Even this," he said in a barely audible voice.
He pulled out the stopper. Amanda's heart pounded. She would not fight him. If he handed it to her and said "drink," she would do it. She doubted she could ever pull off anything like this ever again. And then to her astonishment, he poured out the contents of the flask over the sand. The empty flask fell and rolled against her foot.
"Another reason why I resented Lord Ardon striking you," said Norlan in a heavy voice. "There is no point. No point at all. If the threat of punishment did nothing, then applying it after the fact would do nothing. Come along."
Norlan trudged back to the other end of the beach. Amanda stared down at the empty flask for a moment before she forced her stiffening and aching legs to follow her Master.
|Main Page --> Completed Works --> A Tempest of Lies --> Chapter 31 of 38|
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