31 of Uktar – 1 of Nightal 1371, Year of the Unstrung Harp
Mirriam sighed at the new expensive cloak spread on the low ottoman, kicked the rustling wad of silk wrappings, and stretched full length on top of the dark red bedspread of the monstrous bed. Her four reflections performed the same actions in the giant mirrors across the walls. A plump cupid with a blunt arrow and a disheveled rose wreath on his curly head looked at her with disapproval. Roses also abounded the lace-trimmed pillows, curtains, and wine-red wallpaper. Whoever had designed the furniture for this place, the girl thought distantly, had no grasp of the concept of prudence. One could hold dance classes on the surface of this bed, or maybe drill troops in preparation for military parades. After returning from their prolonged shopping expedition, she had expressed that opinion to Eldoth but the bard had chuckled and suggested that such a piece of furniture could have other, more interesting uses.
That remark had made her blush and quickly switch the topic. They had spent the whole morning visiting small but expensive boutiques along the Ithal road, as Eldoth had insisted she needed a distraction from her grievances with her former companions, and had been more than happy to provide her with a few ‘trinkets’ to replace the ones she had left behind in her flight. At first, the girl had tried to forget herself in a mindless shopping spree. However, once she had spotted a meaningful little smile on Eldoth’s handsome face, and a matching oily grin from the shopkeeper, she had lost all interest in her acquisitions.
Mirriam was not a complete fool, and she had figured out the nature of Eldoth’s plans for her after the first glance at the rooms he had hired. But she was in deep emotional turmoil, and the nature of her distress made her especially vulnerable to his lies. She was only too ready to believe the actor was seriously infatuated with her. In fact, she ‘needed’ to believe those lies, for the sake of her vanity. And although in a deeply suppressed corner of her mind she ‘knew’ Eldoth was not to be trusted, she needed to ignore all the warnings from her rational side for the sake of her ego.
She had already been humiliated enough by what had passed between her and her reluctant would-be lover on the night before - the elf had rejected her after coming as close to satisfying their mutual lust as was physically possible. Mirriam had her own suspicions as to what had made Jon stop and withdraw, although he had tried to reassure her, and had claimed that his reason was purely logical. She had not been good enough for him to forget himself, she had decided afterwards, even though he had been more then ready for the deed, and it had been visibly torturous for him to stop.
Now she could only weep in frustration and bemoan her unconsummated passion. It had been pure insanity from the start; Mirriam admitted that much to herself. Perhaps Jon… Joneleth had been right, and her only reasons for wanting him were his exotic looks and her ignorance of his past... but did it really matter? She knew she was ready to die for another touch of his cool fingers, and that was not an empty claim, for she had felt almost suicidal that morning, after the long torturous night that she had spent crying into her pillow, with Miamla sniffling gently just a few feet away. The thought of returning to the place of her dismissal filled Mirriam with shame and despair; and so she had deliberately tricked herself into believing she could handle Eldoth, at least for a short time. Even the slightest suspicion that yet another man might be ruthlessly manipulating her not because he desired her as a woman, but merely for the sake of potential profit, would have been devastating. And why should not she believe Eldoth?
Mirri had never cared much for Master Kron’s advances, or even found him remotely attractive as a man. The bard was ridiculously verbose, used too much perfume and makeup, and was simply not to her taste. But perhaps he was not a complete villain... and she could certainly use some friendly support in this moment of crisis. Mirri’s perceptions of Eldoth and his ‘feelings’ towards her were rather vague, but as a drowning man would grab even a frayed rope for purchase, so she reached out for the rotten illusion of his ‘friendship’. She was ready to believe that he had not been lying when he spoke about his attempt to save Kes from prison... And the bard was well aware of their financial situation, and yet he did not spurn her. On the contrary, he was willing to spend his own coin to buy her new winter clothes. Even if his generosity was rooted in romantic affection, at least he was honest and unrestrained about it, unlike Jon, who had been playing a game of tag with her for the past few months without much remorse.
It is worth mentioning that through the course of these futile reminiscences Mirriam was alone in her new dwelling. Right after their morning shopping expedition, Eldoth had taken her to a popular tavern on the Ithal waterfront, where he had tried to cheer her up by ordering a bottle of sparkling wine and toasting her ‘freedom’ from both her brother and her guardian. Naturally, they had been spotted by a few of the bard’s old acquaintances, a fact which later generated much gossip. But the girl had not been able to eat or drink, and had sat silently through the entire meal, poking at the tasteless blobs on her plate, and pretending to listen to Eldoth’s convoluted attempts at conversation. The bard had been visibly disappointed by her reaction, but had pretended to ignore her sour mood. Upon finishing that late lunch, Eldoth had brought her and all her parcels back to Madame Zyz’s.
On their second arrival there, Mirri had been naive enough to wonder aloud why the inn had no sign or placard, but Eldoth had laughed at the question and taken her into her rooms by the back door, using the iron-railed stairway winding up the wall outside the many storied building. On the way up, she had finally had a good view of the neighborhood and had been dismayed at the squalor, although after the luxury of the Royal Quarter almost any other district of the city was bound to look dingy and downbeat. Still, the contrast between the streets outside and the gaudy extravagance of the rooms inside was puzzling.
Eldoth had used his personal key, and Mirriam had immediately asked if she could get one as well, upon which request Eldoth had given her his own – thus blunting her suspicions of foul play. All day the bard had been soft-spoken and polite, but despite his best efforts she still felt uneasy in his company. Yet much to her relief once they had entered the apartment Eldoth had asked her leave, promising to check on her later. Supposedly, he had to settle some urgent business in the theater. Thus, the girl had finally been presented with a chance to enjoy her solitude, and to sort out her purchases and her thoughts.
Snapping back from her uneasy thoughts, Mirri kicked away her boots and turned on her belly, propping her head up with both hands and wrinkling her nose at the smell emanating from the velvet coverlet. The bedding was damp, and it felt like the rooms had not been ventilated for eons; and if that was not enough of a discomfort it was rather chilly in there. Part of her wished nothing more than to get away from this inhospitable place stuffed with excessive furniture and reeking of stale rose oil. Yet another part was stubborn enough to dismiss this rational desire. Where could she go? Finding safe and quiet accommodation on her own would not be an easy task, and she was simply too tired and numb from the previous night’s ordeal to think clearly.
Certainly, she would be able to restrain Eldoth for a couple of days, she thought dazedly. He had kissed her a few times before, but had always withdrawn after she had asked him to stop. That fact gave her a measure of confidence that she could keep him from going too far for a bit longer. Surely, they could stay friends without becoming lovers? And then… in a few days time she would be capable of rational thought once again, and might find it possible to return to the Unicorn.
She cried some more, but despite her sleepiness was reluctant to get into the opulent bed or to take off her clothes since not only did it smell funny, it gave her a general feeling of uncleanliness. Mirriam was not hungry or thirsty, even though she had not eaten properly since the day before. She simply felt like dying, or maybe falling into a deep coma and never waking up. Youth tends to take things rather dramatically, and she had never been rejected by a man before. Neither had she been so strongly mystified and besotted, or imagined herself in such a state. The few boys and young men who had had the happy occasion to steal a kiss from her had been meek and subservient. And no wonder – she had been the prettiest lass in the assassin school, and her position in Amkethran before Easamon’s disappearance had been close to that of an uncrowned princess.
Mirri’s latest escapades in Darromaran high society had only strengthened her belief in her attractiveness to men. To be so suddenly turned down by the one man whom she desired so badly had been devastating, and she was not sure what had suffered more, her vanity or her spirit. Not for one moment, however, not even for the sake of her broken ego did Mirri consider yielding to Eldoth’s advances. Yet staying away from her brother and Joneleth was imperative to her. If she had managed to make the elf jealous once, it might work equally well the second time around, and Kessen was a scoundrel who deserved to worry about her just a little. Thus, she decided to accept the bard’s generosity, but to keep him at bay to the best of her capacity.
Besides, Mirriam was pretty sure that if things got out of control she could handle Eldoth with one hand tied behind her back, as the bard had no idea of the extent of her training as an assassin. On top of picking locks and pockets, reading ciphers and disarming traps, she had been taught how to defend herself barehanded against an armed attacker, use garrotes and throwing daggers, and locate the major pain centers of the body. As for her skill with knives and short swords - after she had managed to beat every youngster in her class in a series of one on one sparring matches, she had been the darling of her weapons trainer.
All her opponents had been callow novices like herself, but it had been a serious achievement nonetheless. And even though Mirri had never had the chance to kill any human, during her near two-year enrollment in the academy she had participated in a few actions that involved breaking and entering, and had been no stranger to midnight chases across the rooftops while getting away from a particularly stubborn troop of guardsmen. So, when she had boasted about her intention to break Kessen out of prison, she had not been just bluffing, (although Jon’s solution had proved to be the wiser in the end).
The young assassin-in-training had enjoyed that period of her life, and had been furious when one day her father had appeared out of nowhere, spoken a few words to her guild master, and taken her back to the desert without further ado. Later, she had learned the true reason behind her placement in the Memnon academy, which was near a month’s travel away from Amkethran. Esamon and his crew had been involved in a serious conflict with a rival gang over the trafficking routes through the Marching Mountains, and the smuggler captain had wanted her out of harm’s way. Mirriam had been even more irked after learning that Kessen had been allowed to stay in Amkethran, and had actively participated in the warfare. Naturally, he had been teasing her about that ever since.
“Things are so much easier if you are male!” She thought disdainfully. “Kes has never been taught how to do it properly - yet how many has he killed since he turned fourteen?”
Her twin had completed his passage into adulthood – if adulthood was indeed defined by one’s ability to kill and engage in sexual intercourse – with an ease almost unbecoming in an intelligent being. She had shuddered at the casual manner in which he had drawn a knife across the unconscious woman’s throat, although Zaureen had probably deserved such an end. Thank goodness, Mirriam herself had a very vague recollection of her captivity in the Water Woman’s temple. All she could remember was a feeling of complete emptiness, as if a few hours of her life had been stolen. But judging by a few vague remarks made by Omwo on their march through the desert, she had been very lucky indeed that Joneleth had turned up when he had.
Another few hours would have meant the difference between a thrilling, if a little embarrassing, adventure, which she still remembered with giggles, and a truly gruesome experience the particulars of which she preferred left alone. Omwo had once mentioned that Zaureen had been possessed by a spirit that thrived on emotional discharges from the hedonistic pleasures of others. What exactly that meant Mirri had never truly understood. The diseased and emaciated creatures she had seen on the steps leading into the Temple had not looked happy or content, although they had tried to declare their happiness with their fate in the dry listless voices of the near-dead.
Sometimes Mirri wondered what had happened to those people after Zaureen and her parasite had been removed, but she was afraid to speculate in earnest; and later on the dragon adventure had forced the wretched folk out of her mind. Had Joneleth truly saved her and her brother from some horrible fate? It was quite possible, she decided quietly. Yet the moment her thoughts returned to her unenthusiastic lover, she was lost in the agony of her fruitless infatuation. However, since at the moment she could do nothing to help her grief, Mirri simply curled into a ball, dragged a corner of the heavily embroidered comforter over herself for warmth, and fell asleep, exhausted by her tears.
When she woke up the apartment was drowned in semi-darkness, disturbed only by flickering orange light emanating from some unseen source. The air in the bedroom had become warmer, and as Mirriam peered out of her warm nest, blinking her sleepy eyes at the subtle play of light and shadow, she heard the crackling and hissing of wood, burning in the fireplace. At first, the girl could remember neither the place she was in, nor the circumstances of her arrival. Then the memory of the previous night’s catastrophe hit her once again, as cold and excruciating as a slab of ice. The sudden onslaught of emotions was so devastating that Mirri let out a little whimpering sob, and was immediately greeted by a familiar self-assured voice.
“Mirriam, my little angel, I am glad you are awake. I took the liberty of bringing you your supper, and was humbly awaiting your arousal.” Eldoth’s voice sounded pleasant enough, but his very presence in the bedroom with her was embarrassing and a little alarming.
“I hope you don’t mind the fire – it was rather damp in here,” the actor continued smoothly, rising from the creaky armchair in front of the fireplace and beaming at her. “I would have asked Madame Zyz to clean up the rooms if I had known in advance, but alas...”
Mirriam noticed that he had exchanged the garments that he had worn earlier in the day for a soft doublet of brown silk, and was immediately reminded of her own disheveled state.
“I...I need to freshen up a bit, if you don’t mind,” she finally replied, tucking loose strands of dark hair behind her ears. “And how did you get in here anyway?”
“Oh, I have a spare key,” Eldoth replied with another charming smile. “I apologize for my boldness but hope it can be excused by my ever burning desire to be of service to my queen.” He tilted his head, and Mirri noticed with weird fascination that his left ear, which was normally pierced with a plain golden hoop, sported a much more elaborate earring from which dangled a gleaming pearl the size of a small cherry.
“Here is some goose pâté and a cold partridge. Sorry, I could not get fresh oysters at this late hour, but I have got you a few smoked ones. What else? Ah, bread rolls, cheese, fruit, and champagne, or a bottle of claret, if you prefer the bolder kind of finish.”
Eldoth pointed at the low table laden with plates and wine glasses. Somehow, the gesture made Mirriam relax a little. It was doubtful he would bother to bring all this expensive food and then forget his manners.
“How did you... I mean, it looks elaborate!”
“I had helpers,” he winked at her triumphantly and twirled his mustache. “My darling, I want this evening to be a most charming experience for both of us. Let me assist you to the table.”
“I am not really hungry,” Mirri sighed uncertainly. “And I need to, eh...”
“Ah, how could I be so inattentive! But of course, the bathing room is this way. And I took liberty of unpacking some of your belongings and placing them in there.”
The idea of Eldoth going through her saddlebags in search for her nightgown and hairbrush was disturbing. Strangely enough, the thought of Joneleth doing the same caused a shiver of excitement to run down her spine – except she knew he would never do such a thing.
While washing and re-plaiting her untidy braid, Mirriam checked for her daggers – both were still in place, and easily accessible. This fact made her little more relaxed, although she was still very much aware of the awkwardness of the situation. Still, asking Eldoth to leave right away would be rude, and she decided to break the news of this night not becoming their ‘special’ one gently. At the first sight of the actor, Mirri began seriously regret her foolish decision to trust him to stay away from her even for one night, but it was too late to flee – even with her training, the streets outside were cold and unsafe. Her reasoning appeared sound – the task of fending off one infatuated bard sounded easier than defending herself against a gang of street muggers.
Predictably, Mirriam’s few hints at her general tiredness and distressed mood were thoroughly ignored by Eldoth. All through the course of their shared meal he did not stop talking about his ‘inflamed passions’, casually stroking her hands, arms, and going as far as trying to touch her breasts while pretending to brush away a stray lock of her hair. That gesture triggered all Mirri’s alarms at once.
“Would you please stop doing this?” She asked sternly, pulling one of her daggers out of its hidden sheathe and using it to cut a small slice of pear that was one of the few items on her near empty plate. “I’ve already told you - I am not in the mood for these kinds of activities, and ignoring my warning will not make it any less serious!”
“Your weapon would not hurt me any deeper than your cruel words, my beautiful tigress,” Eldoth entreated softly. But the cold and calculating expression in his dark eyes did not match his mellow intonation. “I have hoped that my profound devotion and my generous assistance would melt your frozen heart, and you would reward me with a puny shred of the same favor that has already been bestowed upon the undeserving head of another.” He looked at her, smiling benignly, but once again, his eyes were not smiling at all.
“I don’t understand what you are implying!” Mirri bristled at him like an angry cat. “And even if I did – this is not the proper way to ask for my ‘favors’! Eldoth, I think you should leave now, before we make each other any more upset. I... I feel unwell tonight, and I would appreciate some privacy. Maybe I simply need a full night’s sleep,” she added after a brief pause, looking at him almost pleadingly. “Surely you can understand that I am too exhausted right now to properly respond to your... feelings.”
“But certainly, my precious!” was Eldoth’s even softer reply. “You do not take me for an oaf who forces himself upon a helpless woman, do you? In a moment, I will leave you to your innocent dreams and return next morn, hoping beyond hope that by some divine miracle your heart would become as mellow as this delicious fruit.” He casually pointed at the sliced pear on her plate. “But will you grant me the honor of toasting your most stubborn resolve before I go? The cruelest rejection will be swallowed easier if it is sweetened by a glass of wine poured by your delicate hand.”
“Sure thing. Which one is your glass?” Mirri asked with immense relief, tucking her dagger into the top of her soft boot. For all her determination to defend herself, she was not looking forward to teaching Eldoth good manners.
“You will delight me even more if you share the taste of this most delicious wine with me.”
Eldoth picked up two clean wineglasses and walked to the glowing fireplace, visibly delighted by the play of firelight on the sparkling crystal. Then he put them back on the table, and Mirri dutifully filled them with crimson liquid. The bottle looked dusty and cobwebbed, but the bard seemed unconcerned about it, and Mirriam was in no mood to inquire. The wine was so dark it looked almost purple in the poor light of the two half-burnt candles and the dimming fireplace, and the play of shadows in the dark room made Mirri’s head spin.
“Let us drink to the strength of your virtue and the depth of my patience,” Eldoth suggested seriously and picked one of the wineglasses, taking a delicate sip. “I strongly recommend the vintage – the Year of the Sword is prized most highly among the connoisseurs.” A sly grin spread over his handsome face, as if some wicked joke was begging to jump from his tongue.
Mirriam took the remaining glass and looked at it with hesitation. The bard chuckled, amused by her indecision. He looked charming and trustworthy – except that now she would not trust him to watch over boiling milk.
“You cannot expect to get drunk and lose your balance,” he chided her softly. “Not from one sip of this divine beverage.”
In fact, that was her exact thought, but upon hearing his ironic remark, Mirriam dismissed it as ridiculous. Eldoth saluted her with his goblet and took another long swig, smiling at her over the rim of his glass. That convinced her - he had already finished a half-bottle of sparkling wine, and surely was far more intoxicated than she could ever become from a single sip of claret.
Slowly Mirriam raised her own glass to her lips, sniffing at it cautiously. The amethyst liquid gleamed like fire, and her nostrils were immediately assaulted by a delicate bouquet of fruity and spicy flavors.
“Don’t be shy, my exotic jewel. One taste of this ambrosia will open before you a gate of pleasures, unrivaled under the moon.”
“Why are you always so flowery?” Mirriam sipped her wine, amused at his pretentiousness. “It does taste like melon with a pinch of muscat, but, Eldoth... ‘pleasures unrivaled’ is taking it too far... unless...”
All of a sudden, her breath caught in her windpipe, her head began to spin faster and faster, and Mirriam had to put her wineglass down, in order to not to drop it on the floor. She clutched at her throat, saw Eldoth open his mouth to answer her and suddenly shut it close, as he watched her with the sharp and greedy curiosity of a vulture looking at its not-quite-dead prey. Then she quivered, and in one quick motion, he put down his glass and jumped to his feet, rushing to her side.
“How ...what... what did you put in there?” Was all Mirri was able to ask, before her knees finally gave up and she sagged into his embrace, unable to move her oddly numb lips.
Her eyes streamed tears but she could not move a finger or utter a single word of protest, as Eldoth picked her up and carried her to the bed. Quickly, he pulled off her boots, located and threw away her daggers; then unfastened her belt and forced his hands inside her coat and breeches. His breath smelled of alcohol, his fingers were greedy and rough, and the girl shuddered in humiliation as the bard continued to strip off her clothes. Having done that, he arranged her naked form on the wine-colored velvet in the manner that pleased him most, rather like an artist keen to start working on a piece of still-life.
“I believe I have waited long enough, my jewel, and I am no longer in a waiting mood,” Eldoth finally told her, smiling in satisfaction at his work and shaking his index finger at her. Mirriam tried to answer, but her tongue and lips failed to produce a meaningful sound. All she could issue was a noise akin to the whine of a small animal.
“Now if you will forgive me, I think we need more light.” He went around the room, lighting the tapers in every chandelier and candlestick he could find, and divesting her even of the feeble shelter provided by darkness. “My darling, I promise to be gentle, and to make your experience as enjoyable as mine will definitely be,” he declared upon his hasty return. “You have played me for a fool long enough, and now you shall take your punishment. But I think you’ll find it pleasant, in a fashion.”
As he took off his shirt and began to unfasten his pants, the girl tried to shut her eyes, in a last vain attempt to pretend this was not happening. But Eldoth’s wicked magical potion denied her even that, and she had to watch him climb on the bed next to her in the full glory of his arousal. He was heavy, much heavier than he looked, and his skin reeked of sharp animal musk, mixed with the same dreaded rose perfume as the bed. At his first intimate touch, Mirri shuddered in revulsion. Alas, that did not seem to trouble him at all, and as the bard clamped his hungry mouth on hers, forcing his alcohol-saturated breath into her lungs, his fingers proceeded with a well-practiced caress of her most intimate parts.
Eldoth was not deliberately cruel or ignorant, and as he had promised from the start, he applied his utmost skill to stimulating all the proper areas and zones of Mirri’s body. But it was a pointless task – even though his elixir had left her quite capable of sensing everything he tried to induce, Mirriam’s muscles were paralyzed by the potion, and her instinct twisted her mind into a convoluted knot of fear and disgust. Still, the actor refused to admit defeat, and for near an hour tormented Mirri with elaborate stimulations and caresses, intended to make her feel aroused. It produced no effect, and in the end, he simply forced himself in, ripping her flesh apart and proceeding with the act in a bloody and painful manner befitting a complete barbarian.
The shock of that initial violent entry, made worse by the contraction of her paralyzed muscles, brought a fresh wave of tears to Mirriam’s eyes. She had never imagined that her first erotic experience would be quite so terrible, and the physical agony was greatly intensified by her humiliation. She could only compare her sensations to that of a live insect, crudely impaled on a collector’s needle, or a fish speared by an apt hunter; except that both the fly and the fish would be left to expire in their misery, not tortured to death by continuous repetition of the process.
But what tormented her most were Eldoth’s dark glassy eyes that stayed locked with hers through every stage of her rough deflowering, as if he was drinking in her pain and her shame, enjoying them and turning them on his tongue like a subtle bouquet of rare wine. At one point, Mirri saw him shiver in ecstasy at the downpour of her tears, and at the same time felt him hardening inside her torn and bleeding flesh. Indeed, Eldoth was so excited about being the first to claim her virginity, that he did not last long in his first turn, and soon completed his bloody labor and collapsed between her legs, filling her with the hot flood of his seed, and a wave of panic over the prospect of conceiving his child.
That ‘disgrace’ made him seriously angry at her, and resulted in hours of prolonged and elaborate torments, aimed at stripping Mirriam of the last shreds of dignity, and making sure she was ‘educated’ in all of the many sophisticated ways in which ‘love’ could be made to a woman. At long last, Mirri slipped into a near comatose state, when the most humiliating and demeaning aspects of her treatment became almost unimportant compared to the sharp agony of continuous forced intrusions.
As for Eldoth, he was drunk with power more than he had ever been with alcohol. Mirriam had tried to deny him not once but twice, and he considered her punishment his privilege as the wronged party. He had not planned for the encounter to go this way - his initial plan had called for a gentler, more romantic approach. Hiding the phial with the potion of paralysis in one of his sleeves had been more of a precaution than a prerequisite for his scheme. Alas, the little vixen had left him no other choice, and what had happened next had been entirely her fault. If she had not enjoyed her opening night as much as she should have – he was not the one to blame. Yet making love to a completely immobilized partner turned out to be the most fantastic experience of his life, and the actor felt like trying it again, one of these days.
What excited him most, Eldoth concluded among the leisurely thrusts and the choked moans of his helpless victim, was his absolute control over the pace and the nature of the act. Even paid professionals could never offer such complete surrender to his will. His continuous fascination with younger women had always been about exercising control, but he had never thought of the plain and simple solution that a few droplets of paralyzing potion could offer to a man of his complex preferences.
When the bard finally exhausted his energy and was compelled to stop his abuse of Mirriam’s flesh, he was quite happy with his revenge over the little Calimshite minx. He had fully explored all the luscious opportunities offered by her young and supple body, sampling all her orifices in all imaginable positions, and now felt pleasantly content. What would happen in the morning bothered him not at all – the girl had no money and no station to speak of, and Eldoth was pretty sure that with his connections he would be able to handle both the brother and the elf.
The fact that pleased him even more was his discovery of a roll of parchment with a detailed drawing of a mountain pass and a painting of a dragon on the side. He had located the map in Mirri’s saddlebags while she slept, and had transferred it to the pocket of his coat. If after this night’s events the vixen was disinclined to continue their association, he was confident of his ability to find the treasure on his own.
Later in her life, Mirriam would desperately try to forget that night. But unlike many benign and romantic memories that slipped from her flighty energetic mind almost too easily, her rape had been etched into her very soul in its every ugly detail. For many months, she would wake up weeping and shaking, after yet another nightmare in which she was rendered a silent and motionless toy, satisfying the perverse pleasures of her rapist.
But the desperate hours that followed her ordeal were no less torturous. Eldoth had fallen asleep with his arms and legs spread possessively over her, and she was left in the dark, silent and paralyzed, deprived of the ability to escape his sickening embrace, and gagging on the discharge in her mouth, but unable to spit. Her sore and bleeding passages sent sharp surges of pain through her flesh, and Eldoth’s hand was firmly planted on her belly that for all she knew might already be quickening with his seed.
At daybreak, physical sensations finally started to return to Mirri’s thoroughly violated body, and she was able to roll away from the man who was snoring next to her, and crawl to the opposite side of the bed, to vomit the contents of her stomach right onto the floor. She was weak as a newborn kitten, her every muscle pulsated with pain, and her limbs still refused to bend properly in their joints, but at least she could move. However, when the girl tried to sit or even raise her head from the mattress for more than few inches, the pounding of blood in her ears turned into the roar of a storm, and she lost consciousness once again.
She was reawakened by a slap on her naked bottom. Eldoth was sitting next to her, still undressed and smiling at her painful groans.
“My sleeping beauty, you were magnificent last night. A dream came true, a fervent desire made flesh – shall I continue my recital and cover all aspects of your delectable persona?” He flicked his eyes across her body, and she felt a wave of shame rising to her face. “Come on, it is a bit late to be shy in my presence,” he continued smoothly. “Admittedly, I regret that I was forced to be a little rough, but I am sure you can understand the position you put me in. Any man would be forced to defend his honor when faced with such deception.”
“W..what? What are you trying to say? That it was all my fault somehow?” Mirriam licked her abused and torn lips, and tasted the bitter bile of her earlier sickness. Her voice sounded alien to her, it was more of a bird croak than human speech. But at least the poison was totally out of her system now, and she could lift her head without having another dizzy spell.
“But of course it was,” Eldoth chuckled at her angry bewilderment. “All you have to do is look into one of these mirrors,” and he pointed at one of her many nude reflections across the walls. “How could one not be smitten by this perfection? You should be proud of drawing such a strong reaction from my poor flesh.”
“You... you dare to suggest that raping me was...was an honor? A reward even... for... for my ‘perfection’?”
“Well, you may call it a chastisement of sorts,” he winked at her with a boyish grin and an expression of shared conspiracy. “But, I daresay, it was well due. And, my precious jewel, you have to fully appreciate the power of your appeal – it looks like I cannot resist you even now.”
He leaned over the bed towards her, and stroked her naked flank. “It surely was not as bad as you are trying to pretend. Perhaps you would care for another try?”
Mirriam fought like a wild cat, forgetting all her training and the logical thinking that came with it, in her blind fear of the second rape. But resist as she might, Mirri was still too weak, and Eldoth almost succeeded in his attempt to tie up her hands with a strip of cloth ripped from the pillowcase. And it was by pure luck and determination that she finally managed to direct her knee at the vital spot. Eldoth yelped like a dog, and hit her on the face with all his strength, making one of Mirri’s eyes go blind in a flash of white light. But her kick made him lose vigor in pursuing his immediate goal, and he rolled off her, nurturing his injured parts.
That was enough of an opening for Mirriam, and she dashed off the bed, tripping over his legs and falling to the floor, still entangled in the stained bed sheets. This time it was not just her luck – she actually managed to collect herself and roll to her side, pulling her knees up to her stomach and avoiding more injuries. As she spun over and got onto her hands and knees, something cold and sharp bit into her palm. Mirri’s first reaction was to pull away the injured hand; then she cried out in the joy of sudden recognition. Last night one of her precious daggers had landed on the floor by the bed, and now she welcomed the return of her weapon despite the blood tricking through her fingers.
Gripping the familiar hilt with a hand slippery from her own blood, Mirriam tried to get to her feet, and that was when the first blow fell. Mirri’s instincts were sharp enough to grant her the seconds needed to protect her head, but Eldoth’s cane left a red line across the sensitive inner parts of her arms. Most likely, at first the bard simply wanted to make the girl drop her knife – she looked wild and dangerous enough to make him wish he had taken better care of her weapons. But as he saw the first welts swell on her cinnamon-colored skin, something snapped inside him, and he stepped up the strokes of his cane, aiming at her bare back, thighs and buttocks. That was, perhaps, his biggest mistake, and it eventually cost him his life. Mirriam was still dazed and weakened by the effects of her poisoning and later rape. But like every desperate animal backed into a corner and threatened with permanent injury, and maybe even death, she lashed out, suddenly turning on her attacker and seizing the initiative.
It was a macabre dance of death and desperation, with both of the opponents eventually realizing that the stakes were too high. Eldoth was no longer smiling. His once handsome and likable features were contorted into an ugly grimace of anger and excitement. Mirriam felt more like a cornered rat than a human; one of her eyes and half her face were already swollen from Eldoth’s earlier blow. She suspected that if she lost this fight he might kill her in his exulting thrill, and that hopelessness finally gave her back the long-sought skill and concentration. Mirri took the next hit on her shoulders, letting the cane break her skin and draw blood, then pirouetted under his hands and slashed with her dagger, aiming at the eyes. Eldoth parried with his elbow, but her stroke was powerful enough to slice through skin and muscle and cut to the bone. He swore at the sudden influx of blood, and had to grab his injured left hand with the other, dropping his cane. Mirri’s next stroke severed an artery on his right hand, near cutting off the palm. Their roles were now reversed, as Eldoth yelped in pain, begging her to stop the butchery, and get the hell away from him, pleading that it was all only a joke on his part, as he had never meant her any real harm...
But it was already too late – hers was the blood of ancient jinn, only slightly diluted by that of the human race and her father’s cold northern rationality. A crimson veil of hatred, bright as the fires of the Abyss, descended over Mirriam’s head, shrouding all traces of kindness, pity and compassion. All she could see was the shrieking face twisted into a mask of panic, yet her hand did not stop even once as stroke after stroke of the razor-sharp knife splayed her with warm rivulets of his blood. She carved him like a pig, and later on the guard officer – a gray-haired hardened veteran of inner city crime-fighting – blinked and turned away at the sight of the naked corpse that was hardly recognizable as human. He counted thirty-eight strokes to the chest and stomach area – each one of them had been a deathblow. But what almost made him sick to the stomach was the bloodied pearl earring that was still dangling from the ear of the near-severed head, which was holding only on a few strands of skin and muscle; both its windpipe and the spinal cord were hacked through with a few brutal thrusts of a dagger.