My knees were torn to shreds from the mud and gravel as I was heaved back through the opening. I tried to kick out, but they’d gripped me tight enough to bruise my flesh. The material from the shelter blocked my view of who had captured me but I knew those rough hands, that deep growl, and stench of aged sweat.
Before I could scream at Morven to run, Cador’s men were upon him. I could hear the muffled yelps and sickening blows to his face and gut through the rent in the skins. With all hopes of a new life dashed, my strength faded.
“I just knew that you’d try something. Kyjya, Mel, you will bind with Chief Blake or suffer the consequences.” Cador turned to one of our men and muttered something in his ear, before proclaiming more loudly. “She’s not to be left alone, got it?”
The warrior nodded, but neither he nor my brother bound my arms. I got to my feet, wondering what they had done with my poor Morven, when four women entered, carrying a pale tunic, a pair of fine shoes, and a bowl of steaming water. From the quality of the fabric, I deduced that this was to be my binding ritual gown. Had Cador arranged the ceremony already?
There was no way that I was going to make this easy for them. The women struggled with my filthy clothes, almost tearing them from my body. I am no prude, but the thought of standing there naked in front of my brother’s most senior warrior and a bunch of strangers, filled me with horror. I tried cursing at them, hoping that the women would meekly depart, but these were not slaves. They were important ladies of the tribe, probably the wives of the elders or their daughters.
One of them grabbed hold of my chin, moving my face to catch the torch light. I pulled away, making her tsk and tut at me for my petulance. Taking a little pot from her bundle, she dabbed a small amount of chalk and grease onto my cheek to cover the purple gift from Cador’s slap. The other women tired of my belligerence.
A wrinkled crone yanked my tunic up and tugged it free from my head. I did all I could to cover myself with my arms, feeling more vulnerable than ever before. Cador’s warrior grinned, taking a good long look and moving around the tent to get a better view of my arse. The women exchanged glances. The lady with the grease put the pot down and brought a torch closer. Every one of them bent low and stared at my belly.
There was no way to keep this quiet. They had already spotted my secret. With a collective gasp of shock, they spat on the rushes at my feet and hurried out of the shelter.