Black clouds brought early dusk that evening. It started to rain at midnight, and the crickets were quiet. Cows lowed despondently in the drenched pastures; dogs took shelter in the empty longhouse.
Horeus’s heart raced with thrill as he led Ateran and Uxur toward the only lit house in town. Horeus came from a family of army captains, and his grandfathers had killed men and ravished women almost daily. Although he had been captain for over a decade, Horeus’s life had been dull and peaceful. Earlier that day, he had finally let his sword taste human flesh. Now he was about to make the first step toward the ravishing part of a soldier’s life.
Horeus tiptoed forward and peeked through the window. Seneusia and Arvasia sat by a blazing fire, and he sneered at their troubled looks. They fretted over Garux, and only he and Ateran knew that Garux would never come back. Horeus had given Garux such a masterful blow with the sword he had nearly severed his head. He had left him to die in a pool of blood.
Ever since his return, Horeus had been watching the two women. They had often gone to the gate to see whether Garux was coming. Now they were alone in the house, defenseless and hidden from the eyes of the other tribespeople.
He drew his sword, and Ateran nudged the drooling Uxur, who grinned and hefted a giant woodcutter’s ax. Horeus kicked the door open, ran into the house, and leveled his sword at Arvasia. Uxur followed and raised his ax above Seneusia’s head.
Seneusia recoiled and squinted as if she expected a blow to her skull. When it never came, she bored her eyes into Ateran, who just walked in. “What is this all about?” she snapped. “How dare you?”
“We are putting you under arrest,” Ateran said.
“By what right?” Arvasia demanded.
Ateran said nothing.
“Is this a way to make an arrest, devious man?” Seneusia asked, glancing up at the giant Uxur and his ax. “What did we do?”
Horeus liked the fire in her eyes. She had the same features as Arvasia, and the wideness of her hips and the lines around her eyes only added to her charm. With a bit of luck, he could have both mother and daughter. Now that he’d gotten away with murder, he saw himself above the law.
“We saw you milling around the gate all evening,” Ateran replied. “We have a strong reason to believe you’re plotting to go look for Garux. That could alert the Marcomanni, so I decided to place you in prison to make sure you don’t leave the town.”
Horeus smirked, for this excuse had been his idea. At times, his cleverness amazed him.
Arvasia opened her mouth and took a deep breath. Fearing she would call for help and cause a riot, Horeus punched her face. As he fell on top of her and clasped his hand over her mouth, he felt more powerful than ever before. Even more than when he had murdered Garux.
From the corner of his eye, Horeus saw Uxur dropping the ax and pouncing down on Seneusia. Horeus turned Arvasia over and pinned her face against the dirt floor to muffle her screams. Ateran pressed her hands together and tied her wrists with a leather string. Horeus stuck a rag into her mouth.
Uxur was strangling Seneusia, and Ateran and Horeus had to shove him away from her so he wouldn’t kill her. Once they had also bound and gagged her, they pulled the women out of their house. Under the cover of rainy blackness, they led them to the fort.
Horeus had ordered that only one soldier stood by the fort’s gate that night while the other patrolled the town’s battlements. The soldier Horeus had posted by the fort was a dimwitted adolescent bully who still idolized Ateran, and who gawked and stood to attention when they reached the gate.
“We caught these bitches sneaking out of town,” Horeus told him. “Since that rebellious swine Garux hasn’t come back, we believe he’s joined the enemy. And these sluts wanted to join them as well.”
The guard gaped at the women, who shook their heads and screamed muffled protests through their gags.
Horeus clasped his hand over the guard’s chin and turned his head toward him. “We’re at war, son. If you tell a soul that we’ve got them, you’ll be executed for treason, do you understand?”
The guard gulped and nodded. Horeus shoved him aside and led the way through the gate. They dragged the women across the moat and into the fort. They pushed them into a bare cell with an arched ceiling. The rain hummed beyond a small window and echoed eerily among grimy stone walls.
Ateran scraped fire from a flint and lit a torch in an iron sconce by the heavy oak door. As the flame grew, it shed sickly light on two pairs of shackles hanging on the opposite wall.
Horeus pressed his hands against Arvasia’s breasts and pinned her to the wall, while Ateran raised her arms and shackled her wrists. Her breasts were firm, and Horeus breathed hard with excitement. She glared at him with hatred and disgust, but he didn’t worry: His mother had always said no marriage was perfect, and the beginnings were the hardest.
Once they had also shackled Seneusia, they removed their gags. Horeus’s fist had swollen Arvasia’s upper lip, which made her look so sensual he decided to punch her again when the swelling went down.
Ateran turned to the women. “Now you can shout if you want, but nobody will hear you as the walls are thick and the window faces the fort’s ramparts. And even if they heard you, they could do nothing because you’re here on my orders.” By the end of the statement, he sounded uncertain. He cleared his throat and added, “And I’m the chieftain!”
“You scoundrel!” Arvasia snapped. “Keeping us here like this . . . you have no right!”
Ateran stepped toward her and slapped her face.
“Despicable man!” Seneusia shouted, but she recoiled when Ateran pushed Uxur toward her, and when Uxur raised his ax and pressed the side of the blade against her cheek.
Ateran said, “I have every right to keep you here. You’re officially charged with treason.”
“That’s nonsense!” Arvasia said.
“There’s no denying it!” Ateran snapped. “War is looming, and you were plotting to sneak out of town. As you both openly defy the nobility of this tribe, I believe you were going to join the enemy.” He smirked and said, “In times of war, treason is punishable by death.”
Horeus grinned at the alarmed look of the women, who began to fear for their lives. The timing and escalation of the threat was also his idea, and he thought he would burst with pride.
Seneusia was the first to recover her wits. “You know it’s not true, deceitful man,” she ground through her teeth. “You are the criminal and traitor. And even if you were right, which you aren’t, what you are doing is against all rules and customs. Where is Agira? Only the druidess remembers ancient trials; only she can pronounce the final judgment. So where is she?”
“Agira’s ill,” Ateran lied. “But she knows about your heinous plan and agrees you deserve death.”
Horeus knew that neither woman believed a word Ateran said, but it didn’t matter. So far, everything had gone according to his plan.
Ateran would now pronounce the death sentence and motion to Uxur to execute Arvasia first. Uxur would turn to Arvasia and lift his ax, but he, Horeus, would save her at the last moment by offering to marry her and make her part of the nobility. Arvasia would have to accept him to save her life as the nobles often had their crimes pardoned.
“There’s no reason to delay the execution,” Ateran said. “We need the prison free as we hope to capture Ortaver.”
Ateran turned to Uxur, pointed at Arvasia, and ran his finger across his throat. Uxur grinned and walked over to her. Arvasia opened her mouth and eyes wide as if someone was strangling her.
“No!” Seneusia screamed when Uxur grabbed Arvasia by the hair and pulled her head down so she faced the floor.
Although Horeus expected Arvasia to cry and beg for mercy, she was silent. He could tell she was petrified, though, as her body trembled so much she made the shackles rattle.
Seneusia did cry and beg, and she squirmed like a hooked worm as she tugged on her shackles. Her words slurred into a prolonged shriek when Uxur began to lift the ax above Arvasia’s head.
Horeus opened his mouth to offer to marry Arvasia when Seneusia screamed, “I confess!”
“Ignore her!” Horeus murmured to Ateran.
But the chieftain turned to Seneusia and asked, “You what?”
Uxur raised the ax higher, and Horeus pulled at the back of his shirt before he could strike. Uxur let go of Arvasia’s hair and lowered the ax, gawking. She lifted her head and stared at her mother.
“I confess!” Seneusia screamed again. “I plotted to sneak out and look for Garux. It was my idea! Arvasia urged me to stay and wait for him to come back, but I wouldn’t listen. I was going to leave while she waited at home in case he returned. Arvasia is innocent, innocent! Kill me, but leave her alone.”
Ateran resembled a spitted pig as he gawked at her with his mouth wide open. Horeus frowned. He had never thought someone could sacrifice their life for someone else; he knew he would never do that.
Arvasia yelled, “Lying will solve nothing, Mam. Don’t you see they’ll kill us both in any case?”
“No!” Seneusia shook her head. “They will let you live if they know that you wanted to wait at home.” She turned to Ateran. “Please kill me and let my girl live. Oh, please, please!”
As she kept pelting the chieftain with supplications, Horeus scratched his pockmarked forehead, wondering how to revert to the original plan. Ateran began to shake, and Horeus guessed all the shouting had unnerved him. He feared Ateran would do something rash and stupid. And he did.
“Kill that babbling old bitch first!” Ateran yelled at Uxur, spittle flying out of his trembling mouth.
Uxur gawked in confusion. Horeus scowled: that wasn’t part of the plan.
“Yes, kill me!” Seneusia screamed. “But promise to let my girl live.”
“Mam, no!” Arvasia screeched.
As Ateran pushed Uxur toward Seneusia, Horeus roared, “Wait!”
Everyone fell quiet and turned toward him. Uxur dropped the ax and scratched the top of his head. Saliva fell off his chin and landed on his barrel chest.
Horeus’s heart raced. He had just thought of a way to come out of this mess without committing another murder. He said, “Seneusia’s bravery and selflessness have moved me.” That line hadn’t been rehearsed, and he realized he was speaking from his heart. “She deserves to be pardoned.”
He looked straight at Ateran and raised his eyebrows. At last, he saw light coming into the chieftain’s dull eyes.
“But she isn’t noble enough to have her crimes pardoned,” Ateran said. He had been supposed to say that about Arvasia, but it still worked.
Horeus took a deep breath and said, “She would be noble, though, if someone like me married her—or her daughter.”
“I will marry you!” Seneusia exclaimed, her voice eager, her eyes squinting with disgust. Sticking out her breasts, she said, “I’ve got a lot of experience. And I’ll do anything for my husband.”
Horeus felt a twinge in his loins. She was incredibly desirable with her hands raised and her breasts sticking out. Her drenched underdress stuck to her skin and highlighted the bulges of her nipples. The longing to squeeze them made him feverish, but he managed to breathe normally and even look appalled.
“Nobody wants an old, dry crone!” he scoffed. He pretended to be thinking for a moment. “But I would be willing to marry Arvasia to save your sorry life.”
Horeus heard Arvasia gasp. As he turned to her, she opened her mouth to speak. But her mother was faster.
“I’ll rather die than let you marry my daughter!” she screamed. “Arvasia belongs to Garux.”
“Garux is dead, you stupid bitch!” Ateran snapped before Horeus could stop him.
Arvasia screamed. Her knees gave in, and she hung from the shackles as if her soul had departed. “I don’t believe you,” she groaned. “I don’t believe—” Then she burst into tears.
“Please marry me,” Seneusia babbled, over and over. She was so distraught Horeus thought she would die. “Make me your slave, if you wish, but leave my girl alone.”
Arvasia scrambled to her feet. Tears still ran from her eyes, but she had calmed. “I will marry this sleazy pig.” She shot Horeus a look of hatred and turned back to her mother. “You gave me life, love, and happiness, Mam. You have taken care of me and were ready to die for me. Falling into a miserable marriage is my way to repay you, and to give you back some of your love. And I will do it.”
Seneusia shook her head. “You can’t do that, unfortunate girl. You cannot—”
“Please, Mam. If it’s true that Garux has died, then my hope for happiness is dead, too. Dying inside alone, or dying inside with this swine . . . what difference does it make? But I want you to live.”
“No!” Seneusia shouted. She was about to protest further, but Ateran shrieked and punched her stomach, making her cough and groan. Uxur laughed and clapped his hands.
Ateran took a deep breath to calm down. He motioned to Uxur to gag Seneusia again, and then he turned to Arvasia. “I’m willing to let you both live, but only if you become Horeus’s wife. We will keep you and your mother here until the ceremony to make sure you don’t change your mind.”
Arvasia sniveled and nodded; she seemed to have accepted her fate. Seneusia squirmed and groaned through the gag, though, and Horeus guessed she would never stop making trouble. It would be easier to murder her.
SEPTEMBER 2020 AUTHOR OF THE MONTH / 2020 AUTHOR OF THE YEAR at Spillwords.com
An award-winning author, P.C. has always had a vivid imagination. When he was in kindergarten, he convinced his classmates that his grandma was a tribal shamaness. Then he learned his letters, and kidding his friends no longer seemed adequate—so he started to write. P.C. has published two standalone novels, 'Deception of the Damned' and 'The Priest of Orpagus'. His latest project, 'Celts and the Mad Goddess', is the first installment of 'The Deathless Chronicle'. His stories have been featured in various publications, and 'A Wandering Corpse' has received an Honorable Mention in the L. Ron Hubbard Writers of the Future Contest. In September 2020, he was Spillwords Author of the Month. P.C. has lived in six countries and on three continents. While it burned a hole in his bank account, the seminomadic lifestyle has inspired most of his stories and novels. He has settled with his wife in southern Spain, where he goes swimming and cycling whenever he isn’t too busy writing and teaching English.