Chapter Eleven – Forbidden Words and a Potion for Slaves
It took Citlally a few days to realize why nobody was taking her jewelry from her. She was still in the large room, sitting on the floor as she waited for something else to happen. She regretted all those times in high school and elementary school that she had ever whined about being bored. Her teachers had been right – there would come a day when she truly had nothing to do, and then she would know better.
The chamber might have once been a dance hall or a place of gathering, but now it was so shabby and run-down that nobody would have wanted to attend an event there. As it was, there was nothing on the walls but ancient nails that had possibly held works of art in some by-gone age. The threadbare rugs on the floor probably held more bugs and dirt than comfort, and the corners were littered with decades-old garbage; nothing recent, for none of the women were given anything to make trash out of. There was nothing whatsoever to do except wait. That was all anybody in that room ever did: wait.
Food was provided every now and then, but most of it was cold and stale, and the portions were too small to do them any good. There was plenty of water available from the fountain, which stood a little south of the center of the room. As for lavatories, it seemed that they were only in place to keep the captured women as appealing as possible to the slave-buyers.
She’d waited with Allanah for a while, until she was called away and taken elsewhere. Citlally hoped that she was all right, that she hadn’t met her doom out there, for she did not come back. Then she realized, watching some of the other women carefully, that once someone left, they didn’t come back. Sometimes new women would come in, but that was through another door. Leaving was on one side, arriving on the other.
Citlally tried to figure out whether there was a certain type of female that was called on more than others, but there seemed to be no reason at all for who was picked or how long they waited; some were large and strong, others young and delicate, and some were there only briefly before moving on, while others said they’d been there for ages.
The other women of the room were not much for conversation. Sure, her translator was working, but they had little of interest to say. They knew bits and pieces of what Allanah had told her: don’t tell anyone that you remember your dreams, don’t lie to the Wilang, and if you do, never let them know that you did. Keep your eyes down, do what they tell you to do.
They didn’t want to make idle conversation with her – getting them to say anything at all to her was a trial that was only sometimes worth the effort – so Citlally was left with only the explanation that the weasel-like aliens had an extreme view of purity. They cared more about remaining clean than they did about jewels and riches, so they would not go anywhere near the belongings of the de-virginized women. They probably considered those to be as soiled as the women, she ended up telling herself.
By the time Citlally’s name was actually called, she was half-asleep, half lost in a daze of boredom and fury, and did not hear them shouting for her. It took a few minutes for the weasel-faced guards to walk through the room and find her. Two of them pointed their spears at her and ordered her to stand up. She stared up at them for a moment, weak from not having eaten for too many hours, and slow in realizing what was going on.
When they went on shouting at her, adding vile threats to their orders, Citlally forced herself to her feet. It was a struggle, so bad was her fatigue, and she had to lean against the column to support herself.
“Now walk!” one of the Wilang shouted, and she followed him through the wide hall.
Some of the other women watched her go, staring at her, some with one expression, some with another. Their was pity, jealousy, disgust, offense, relief, conceit, and even anger. Whenever one of the females was called for, the others would have that array of reactions. Some were glad that they themselves hadn’t been chosen, while others hated having to remain in that hall for even one day more.
They passed through the double doors, a dozen females of various species joining them, walked down a long causeway, and emerged outside into the glaring light of Sardonia’s main star. The first two females were loaded onto a cart and taken out of what looked like a kind of bailey. Some of the others were put in ankle chains that were linked to one another, so that they would not be able to run away unless they all left together in a highly-choreographed fashion. A few others were escorted away by unfamiliar Wilang on foot. After a while, Citlally was the only female left in the bailey.
“Your new owner is late!” one of the guards grumbled. He and another Wilang spoke amongst each other for a few minutes, complaining about this and griping about that. They seemed like a very discontent sort of species, and Citlally might have pitied them if she did not hate them so much in that very moment.
It seemed like another hour before a man rode up on the back of some kind bulky beast of burden. He was not a weasely Wilang, but something taller and leaner, with a turquoise hue to his fur. He rode into the bailey, pulled up beside the Wilang guards, and descended to the ground. He knelt before the weasely aliens and addressed them in a humble tone.
“My master, the Compt de Herryv,” the turquoise-furred alien told them, “has sent me to retrieve the unclean one.”
“You came late,” one of the guards complained. “Your master should punish you for this. How is he going to control another slave if the ones he already has cannot behave?”
“A thousand apologies, good sirs. I should have tried harder to avoid offending you,” the stranger replied, bowing his head lower.
“What does it matter now?” the guard chided him. “You’ve already made us all late. Get the wench out of here and let us be done with it!”
The Wilang guards turned to go, not interested in hearing the other man say anything else. When they were gone, Citlally realized that he was staring at her, his expression dubious and somewhat confused.
“You are what my master bought?” he asked, sounding exceedingly disappointed.
She tried to hold back from making some snide remark, and succeeded only because she was so exhausted.
“Well, you’d better follow me. It’s a long way to the manor.” He turned and hoisted himself onto his beast, urging it forward, ready to clomp out of the bailey and onto the plains of dried grass. When he turned around to make sure that she was following, he realized that she’d collapsed onto the dusty ground. She laid there in a weakened heap, her eyes closed, her limbs limp.
“Just great,” he grumbled to himself, turning the beast around. “Master is not going to like this one bit.”
He got off the animal once again, picked up Citlally’s body and hoisted her onto his saddle. He buckled her into place, where she groaned and leaned forward weakly.
“Well, I certainly can’t explain to the master why you were passed out and riding my glokglok. I’m not even supposed to touch you,” he grumbled. “Are you listening to me?”
Citlally, of course, said nothing in reply.
“Fine,” the furry alien replied. “Stay quiet, then. I didn’t want to listen to your voice anyway. You are one of those damned humans, aren’t you? So unreliable, so weak – and so much of a pain to deal with! Master must have gotten you cheap.”
He pulled on his beast of burden’s reigns and guided it out of the bailey, eager to get away from the Wilang before they came back and saw what was going on.
“You know, usually the only time a female gets to ride is when she is with young – and for you that certainly won’t be the case. The lavishta elixir they’ll be giving you to drink will make sure of that!”
He went on talking, even though he knew that she was unconscious and couldn’t hear him. “So, if you are human, then you need a constant supply of food in order to keep up your energy. Why did they ever let you venture into space if you couldn’t reserve your energy for a later time? Your biology is all wrong for space travel.”
They journeyed down a long road. It was empty of any other travelers, save those that could be seen only from a distance. Fortunately, nobody would be able to see what was going on.
“So, I am going to have to get you some food and water before you meet the master. I cannot take you to him half-dead, and if he finds out that he’s lost money, I will be the one taking the beating for it. I know of a glen where you can eat honey lon fruit until your guts burst, but you are the one who’s going to pay for it later!”
He chuckled to himself and led the beast onward. They would follow the road until they came by a forest, and then they would venture off the beaten path for a rest in a shaded area. Fortunately, they met nobody else on the road the rest of their way there.
* ** *** ** *
It was nearly dusk by the time they got back to the manor. Citlally had revived in the cool shade and drunk her fill of cold spring water. The honey lon fruit had been exquisitely sweet, and by they time she was satiated, the alien was complaining about how late it was getting. She’d been able to walk the rest of the way to the manor, and the turquoise-furred alien had ridden the strange creature, as he claimed that it was his place to do. He looked relieved that she was able to walk, though Citlally felt too weary to ask why.
The guards – Wilang men, from what she could tell – of the palace gave them mean, cold looks as they passed through the gates. One of them gave them a wry smile and made some sort of comment about the master’s whip. Citlally wanted to give him a dirty look, but he stomach churned such that she lost the urge to do so.
When they got to the main hall, which looked much like a nobleman’s hall from old stories back on Earth, the turquoise-furred alien immediately knelt before the finely-dressed Wilang they found standing there. Citlally stared at him, the way his snout was longer than most. There was something insidious about him, and she decidedly did not like him, least of all the whip that he wore on his belt.
“Where have you been?” the Wilang snarled, his voice slithering and harsh.
“Master, I obeyed your command and went to retrieve the new slave that you purchased.”
“And it took until sunset?” his master snapped. “What have you been doing, poking yourself into her just for a chance at release?”
The slave alien had a disgusted look on her face. “I would never touch the unclean, master. And I swear to you, I would only mate with the one whom you ordered me to breed with.”
“Filthy slaves,” the Wilang muttered, as though he hadn’t just heard the explanation. “Tell me what took you so long, then.”
“My master, I urged her on faster,” the one with turquoise fur explained, his voice humble and pleading, “but she was difficult to deal with. She refused to go any faster, and complained the entire time about food.”
His lies ignited Citlally’s fury. Her eyes widened and her face turned red with anger. “He’s lying!” she cried out.
The back of a hand met her face so fast that she didn’t see it coming. Citlally stumbled backwards and blinked her eyes, then looked up to see the Wilang master glaring down at her. She narrowed her eyes at him as she rubbed her cheek.
“You shall never raise your voice in my presence!” he hissed at her. He pulled the whip from his belt and raised its handle so as to threaten to hit her with it if she didn’t behave. “Vashyyk is the most loyal slave I own. Can you prove to me that you are more loyal than he is?”
“Why should I?” she asked him. “I never consented to working for you. He is a liar regardless of what you think.”
That time the whip’s handle did hit her. It stung her cheekbone and sent her to her knees, where she crouched and rubbed it in hopes that it would throb less. The Wilang snapped the tassels of the whip on the floor, showing that he was ready to escalate the punishments.
“I do not need your consent, slave!” Citlally wanted to push him and run outside as his slithering voice entered her ears, but she only knelt there and waited. “You are unclean. You soiled yourself with a male and refused to adhere to the rightful laws of the Mystic Lord of Sardonia.”
Great, she thought to herself. They’re religious fanatics. She was not going to put up with that from anyone.
“I am not unclean,” she told him. “I have a husband, and I have only ever been with him. I don’t need an alien judging me. Send me home if you don’t like my culture, but I’m not your slave!”
“Stupid,” she heard the turquoise-furred man whisper. He rubbed his temples and shook his head, but made no move to help her.
The whip came down on Citlally’s arm, right where the spiderweb scar marked the site where she’d been injected with poison. It stung far more than she had expected, making her cry out, and once she realized that the tickling sensation running down her arm was her blood flowing, she glanced over at the whip and notice that sharp, jagged splinters had been embedded into the leather. She looked up at the Wilang, a look of utter disbelief on her face.
“I am Compt Aredansk de Herryv,” the Wilang nobleman informed her, his tone revealing his disgust that she didn’t already respect him, “leader of one of the greatest counties in the Plains of Sardonia. I own over a hundred slaves, and I have tamed wilder creatures than you.”
Citlally was not in the mood for his posturing. Something about him had ticked her off, and all she wanted to do was wrap her wound in a cloth and leave. “I’ve never heard of you before,” she told him curtly. What had gotten into her? She knew what Jalingan and Allanah had told her about being obedient, but she couldn’t find it in herself to obey.
The whip came down again, in the same place as before, and the bleeding worsened. When she put her hand on it to try quelling the flow, he whipped her hand, and it bled just as freely as her arm. She glowered up at him.
“Vashyyk!” the compt hissed as he stared right back at her.
The tall man with the turquoise fur stepped forward and knelt beside him. “Yes, my master?” It sickened Citlally to see him act so obediently towards such a cruel creature as the compt.
“Shut her mouth. I do not wish to hear another word out of her.”
“Of course, my master,” Vashyyk intoned, beginning to rise. “When she heals from this, she will speak only in your favor.”
The compt grinned and turned around. He walked over to a throne-like chair and sat down to watch. Vashyyk grabbed Citlally’s shirt by its collar, lifting her to his level. He looked at her with his cold eyes, a sickening shade of the color of his fur, and shook his head again.
“Did nobody ever explain to you he value of keeping your mouth shut?” With his free hand, he slapped her face, and she learned that his palms were like that of a bear’s, wide and padded, but dry and scratchy from working with his hands. “Are you going to obey the master?”
“I obey only myself,” Citlally told him. “And if you don’t long for freedom, at least don’t expect me to forget about it.”
The other cheek this time. It stung and throbbed, and she assumed that it was going to swell up. He went on like that, slapping her whenever she refused to pledge herself to the compt. Sometimes his strike was off, and he hit closer to her eyes, making it harder for her to keep them open.
No matter what, she still refused to give in, not after everything she’d worked for and believed in while growing up. She struggled and kicked her legs, and in response Vashyyk dropped her. It turned out that he wore incredibly heavy boots, and when he kicked her calves, they left behind large welts.
After a while, the compt raised his palm and Vashyyk stopped and turned to his master.
“The lavishta elixir,” he told his slave, gesturing to a bottle on the table beside him. The liquid inside the bulbous glass seemed to have a glow it it, so bright was its blue. Or was that because the beating had damaged her vision?
Citlally was starting to feel dizzy. She only half heard what Vashyyk said, and through blurred vision watched him walk over to the table and pick up the glass bottle. He carried it over to her and knelt down beside her.
“If you know what’s good for you, you will drink this.”
“Water will be fine for me, thank you,” she croaked out in reply.
Vashyyk grumbled and kicked her in the belly. “Drink it!” he ordered her. He popped off the cork and held it towards her.
Citlally closed her eyes and rolled over to her other side. She felt his boot kick her back, and his paw-like hand grabbed the back of her head. Vashyyk lifted her up and turned her towards him.
“Spit this out and the master will cut your belly open,” he whispered to her. “Just drink it!”
She narrowed her eyes at him as he brought the bottle towards her lips. He shoved the drinking end into her mouth and tilted it so that the liquid flooded down her throat. It was cold to the touch, yet warm with some kind of spice, and terribly sweet. She swallowed it as fast as she could in order to keep from choking, but by the end she was sputtering and could hardly keep it down. As he pulled the bottle away, she found that there was a lingering sour aspect to the elixir that made her want to gag.
“Take her downstairs and put her in chains until I’m ready for her,” the compt ordered.
Vashyyk agreed, set the bottle on another table, and forced Citlally to stand. His hand wrapped around her neck, and she realized that her legs were weak, that she couldn’t have stood on her own. He escorted her out of the room, into an empty hallway, and closed the door behind him. He looked around to make sure that nobody else was there, and lifted her into his arms.
“You are the stupidest one yet,” he complained as he carried her down the nearby stairs.
“What?” she groaned, hardly able to understand him.
“At least you drank the lavishta elixir. You don’t want to know what the Wilang do to babies who are born to their slaves. Better not to take any risks.”
“Endan,” Citlally eked out, feeling her consciousness starting to fade. She could hardly even understand that Vashyyk was talking to her, let alone what he had said. “Where are you?”
The turquoise-furred man ignored her confused rambling and walked past several cells of the dungeon-like basement. He kicked open the door of an unlocked cell and stepped inside with her. On the ground was a thick pile of hay-like fibers, and Vashyyk laid her carefully upon it. He grabbed the chains that were connected to a wall nearby and clamped the ends onto her wrists and ankles. The chains were long enough that she could lie is whatever position she wanted, but not so long that she would he able to reach the door. At the very least, her wrists were not bound together this time.
Vashyyk left her lying there, hoping that she would fall into a long, restful asleep, and closed the door. He fastened a bulky metal lock onto the door and walked away. There was nothing more that he could do for her at that particular moment.
* ** *** ** *
When she awoke, Citlally was both sore and stiff. Even the slightest movement hurt, and she was shivering uncontrollably. There was an acrid smell in the air, and as she pushed her body up from the pile of hay that she found herself lying on, she noticed a puddle of blue ooze on the stone floor nearby. Groaning, she felt the queasiness still in her stomach and realized that she must have thrown up some of the elixir – lavishta or whatever they called – that she’d been forced to drink earlier. She rolled over and let her body collapse back down. Moving was simply too painful to be worth it.
A few hours later, she opened her eyes again and realized that she’d fallen asleep. This time, she felt slightly better. As her vision started to clear, she realized that there was a man in her room… a tall man. And then she realized that it was more like a dungeon cell. When she could see color more clearly, she noticed that he was covered in fur that was a sort of turquoise. He had a bottle of blue potion beside him, and a small ceramic jar.
Citlally let out a long groan. She wanted to close her eyes again, but her stomach was growling and she could smell something that had to have been food.
“Wha- what place is this?” she mumbled, though her jaw ached.
“Shhh…” he whispered. “Don’t say anything. You’re too hurt to speak.”
Letting out another moan, Citlally tried to sit up. Vashyyk lunged forward and hooked his hands under her shoulders, helping her prop herself upright against the wall. Then he pulled a stool closer beside her and sat down.
“I know you were told to keep quiet,” he whispered. Whoever might have been nearby, he certainly didn’t want anyone hearing them.
When Citlally turned to look at him, she noticed a patch of white on her right side, and look down to she that her arm – the one that had been shredded by the whip – was wrapped in a long bandage. From the way it felt, as well as the medicinal smell, there must have been some ointment in there as well. She met his eyes with a confused expression.
“Humans are so stupid,” he complained, shaking his head. “Just… don’t talk, okay? You’re going to end up dead if you can’t figure out what is going on.”
Of course she didn’t plan on talking. Her stomach hurt, her face hurt, her jaw hurt, her arms, even her belly. Her stomach was the worst of all. It was worse than the k’zshyrk, and she thought that the only thing that would bring her any relief was – without warning, Citlally turned away from Vashyyk and leaned over towards the blue puddle that she had made earlier. Her stomach churned, convulsed, and then heaved. Up and out came more of the blue elixir, mixed with chunks of the honey lon fruit she’d eaten the day before. He stomach squeezed and heaved a few more times and then left her to gasp for breath until she was able to calm down.
“Humans always vomit the lavishta elixir,” he noted.
“How many –” she croaked, wiping her mouth as best she could.
“I told you, don’t try to talk,” he reminded her, his voice still soft and low. “Besides, there are no other human in the compt’s palace right now. He always sends your kind to the mines; humans are too rebellious for him to put up with for very long.”
Citlally stared at Vashyyk with weary eyes, too queasy to bother trying to reply. He held the ceramic jug towards her and told her to drink. When she opened the cork on it, she found that it was not the elixir, but fresh water. Realizing how incredibly thirsty she was, she brought it to her lips and drank and much as she could manage.
“There is also this,” he added when she set the jug down. He held out a bowl for her, and she stared at him for a moment. “Do not talk to me about food. Ever. Unless you want a repeat of yesterday, you’ll do exactly as I say.”
Citlally was not sure that she wanted to accept the bowl from him. “Why?” she whispered, and regretted it right away; she feared that her jaw had been cracked.
“I have worked for years to earn the compt’s trust, and I will not throw it away for someone so dim-witted. I only came down here to tell you that His Grace will beat you again if you don’t get yourself together by the time you’re healed. He needs you to scrub the floors upstairs before his new twins are born, and you are the one he expects to get the job done.”
After a moment of thought, Citlally reached out and took the bowl of food. Vashyyk sat there and watched her stir its contents as she tried to figure out what it was. To her, it looked like the week-old remains of some kind of stew, something made from what Sardonia had in the way of squash and tomatoes. It smelled decent enough, so she ate it. Every bit of it; she hadn’t realized that she could possibly be so hungry.
When she was done, Vashyyk yanked the bowl from her hands and replaced it with the bottle of lavishta elixir. “Drink it. You might throw up again, but you are absorbing enough of it for it to be effective, I assure you.”
Citlally looked at him with pleading eyes. “Please… no more.”
“You can drink it or my master can come down here and shove it down your throat. He will probably crack the glass and make you swallow that, too. Drink it on your own and you will have no problems.”
With a reluctant sigh, she nodded and brought the bottle to her lips. Now that she knew how it would make her feel, it was that much harder for her to swallow each gulp. Still, she forced it down and handed him the empty bottle. Vashyyk grumbled under his breath and took it from her.
Before he left, he cleaned up the puddles and warned her to keep quiet. She was not to ask for him or anything else, and not to call out, unless she felt like being whipped again. He slammed the door, fastened the lock tightly, and left. Alone once again, Citlally felt fatigue overtake her, and she laid down and fell asleep.
* ** *** ** *
The next few days were much the same. Vashyyk came to her at random times, ordering her to keep quiet and not ask for food even while he handed her a bowl of whatever leftovers he could find. He would sit next to her and wait for her to finish eating, and then change her bandage, rubbing it with a green medicinal salve.
“This will dull the pain and make your skin stitch itself together faster, but you will have a lot of scarring,” he told her after a few days.
“Why are you doing this?” she asked him. “Are you like Jalingan?”
“Who in the hell are you talking about?” Vashyyk scowled. “I am only doing this so that my master can she you put to work as soon as possible.”
“The mercenary who came on the K’zzyrch shuttle,” she explained.
“A mercenary?” he asked, raising a brow. Then he looked around, leaned in close to her and whispered, “You know better than to say his name.”
Citlally blinked and furrowed her brow. When she tried to speak, he cut her off, using his normal volume. “I don’t want to hear about galactic fairy tales and rumors. You’re here to work, and unless you want to go to the mines, you will work hard.”
“What’s so bad about the mines?”
Vashyyk scoffed. “Only that nobody ever comes back from them. Once someone is there, they never come back to the palace. Some of them disappear altogether.”
“What do you mean?” Citlally wanted to know. “Are they killed, buried under rocks? Eaten by strange monsters?”
He shrugged. “Nobody cares about you down there. If you wander off, nobody is going to come after you. If you get into trouble, nobody rescues you. If you miss supper and don’t show up with your work team, you don’t eat. Nobody cares.”
“Sounds better than this place,” Citlally grumbled. She was sick of sleeping on the pile of hay and eating food from three days ago at random hours.
“You think so?” he chided. “Fine, then go there! I will tell you this: if you lay even a finger on the comptess while she is with child, the compt will have you in the mines before the day’s end.”
With that, Vashyyk gathered up the things he’d brought with him, left the cell, and locked the door. He stormed off down the hall and up the stairs before Citlally could say another word to him.