A NOVEL OF ADVENTURE
BY JEFFREY BLAIR LATTA
And then Seagrave seized the Trayken by his girdle and hauled with all the strength in his shuddering arm.
Seagrave's rescue was so abrupt, he had caught the Trayken and was soaring away before either of the manatyr's heads could react. Seconds later, he reached a wide platform near the hanging docks. His grip on the Trayken was none-too-secure, and he barely managed to manoeuvre his mount over the platform before both the pirate and his charge tumbled sprawling on the sewn boards. Instantly Seagrave surged to his feet -- but the frantic narse was already gliding out and away over the open water.
Like a caged beast, Seagrave cast desperately about for an escape route, his body dropped in a low crouch. A glance showed the manatyr, harried by the flash worms, ponderously sliding back down into the sea. Seagrave's feral glare shifted to the Trayken, who scrambled up and regarded the pirate, his tiny black eyes wide with astonishment. For a moment, the two creatures from alien worlds faced each other in silence.
In the language of the Kamir, the Trayken asked uneasily, "Why did you rescue me? -- I am a Trayken. Explain."
Seagrave scowled impatiently. "That's the problem with you Trayken," he snarled. "You ask too many damn quest --"
Abruptly the Trayken stiffened as his black eyes focused on something behind the pirate. Instantly he stumbled backwards, wheeled and slipped into the crowd which had gathered at the other end of the platform. Seagrave jerked around -- then felt a cold hand clench behind his heart.
A ropebridge debouched onto the platform. Standing in the mouth of the bridge loomed the black-armoured figure of Draykhis Dol Hashar.
The wind tossed his ebony cape, and the light gleamed on the midnight lacquer of his shoulder plates and the loin plates hanging from his girdle. Seagrave cast a quick glance back toward the crowd -- but saw four Trayken Rayvers step from the throng, their leisters presented menacingly. Dol Hashar raised a gloved hand, and the Rayvers halted uncertainly.
The draykhis's eyes narrowed to shining slits, and his mouth curled into a semblance of a smile. "You asked me before to untie you," he hissed, once again speaking in english. "Now you are untied. Come. If you can escape past me, I will allow you to go free."
Seagrave glanced at the Rayvers, then back at the draykhis -- weighing his options. He had little choice. His only way off this platform was by the bridge. He studied the Trayken a moment, taking in the powerful corded arms and broad hairy chest, remembering the terrible buffeting he had received in the throne room. He licked his dry lips.
"You have claws," he contested grimly. "That's an unfair advantage."
With a low chuckle, Dol Hashar held out his hands, and the gleaming black talons receded into the gloves.
Seagrave set his teeth, sucked in a quick breath -- and bounded forward like a charging bull.
He struck the Trayken just above the rim of his black girdle, impacting with all the force in his back and legs. The effect was like running into a tree. Dol Hashar barely stumbled under the attack, his corded arms instantly catching Seagrave's shoulders, his knee driving up and ramming Seagrave hard in the chest. Seagrave tumbled backward, sprawling on the boards, momentarily dazed.
Shaking his head, he stumbled to his feet -- but Dol Hashar was already reaching for him. Seagrave made a fist and planted it hard across the Trayken's outthrust jaw, then followed with another to the draykhis's gaunt cheek bone. Dol Hashar's head twisted left, then right under the blows, and black blood sprayed from his slanted nostrils. Seagrave swung for a third time -- only to find his fist trapped in a powerful gloved hand that felt like carved ebony. Before the pirate could free his fist, Dol Hashar lashed out with appalling speed and sadistic precision, battering the pirate once, then twice, then a third time in the pit of his stomach. Seagrave's knees crumpled under him, his lungs paralyzed. Disdainfully, Dol Hashar flung him backward so he landed stretched on his spine.
Coughing, the pirate climbed slowly to his feet, tottering drunkenly, his eyes glazing. Clearly, he realized, the Traykens were much stronger than humans; Dol Hashar wasn't even winded, while Seagrave was exhausted.
With a low snarl, Seagrave sprang forward, throwing every ounce of his remaining strength into a final furious assault. His fists landed a dozen blows in quick, frenzied succession; Dol Hashar fell back a few steps under the brutal attack, more blood trailing down his outthrust chin and matting his black goatee.
Abruptly the draykhis threw out his arms, moving with stunning quickness, pinioning Seagrave's arms at his sides and crushing the pirate to his chest. Desperately Seagrave tired to draw breath -- but the pressure on his lungs was too great; he felt as if his ribs were caving, his heart ready to burst. His feet were lifted clear of the ground. His vision distorted as he floated on the dream-like edge of consciousness --
With a victorious shout, Dol Hashar released his suffocating hug, and Seagrave tumbled limply to the boards, nearly senseless. With crafted cruelty, the Trayken strode to Seagrave's side, bent and rolled the pirate callously onto his front. The draykhis planted his boot on the small of Seagrave's spine, then brought the pirate's wrists together behind his back. With a savage heave, Dol Hashar stamped down with his boot and dragged up on Seagrave's arms, at the same time imparting a brutal twist to the corded limbs. Seagrave cried out horribly through clenched teeth as searing agony like liquid flame poured down his arms and into his shoulders.
"Who gave you the green tal-stone?" Dol Hashar questioned in a tight steady hiss.
"Go to hell --"
The draykhis viciously twisted the limbs again, but this time Seagrave gave him no satisfaction. After a moment, Dol Hashar released his grip and removed his boot, stepping back with a jingling of spurs. He gestured to his Rayvers. "Take him back to his prison," he instructed sharply in Kamir -- for Seagrave's benefit, no doubt. "Make certain he does not escape again. I have received confirmation, so I will attend to him shortly. It seems I am permitted to torture him to death."
As the Rayvers made to obey, none noticed the blue skinned slave girl watching with wide, frightened eyes on the edge of the crowd. No sooner had they carried the pirate from the platform than Montaz gave a small, anguished cry, then slipped quickly away...
Aye, his captors had done that all right.
Seagrave was taken back to his prison under heavy guard. There his wrists were bound with silth cords -- dead cords that did not constrict on contact with his skin. The ropes were drawn through the two rings in the ceiling and his arms were pulled up into a wide V between the rings, lifting his feet just clear of the floor. His legs were then spread between the floor rings, more silth cords lashing each ankle securely in place.
Dol Hashar's final assault had left Seagrave barely conscious. Half the muscles in his shoulders had been ruptured. On earth, he would have been crippled for life. Yet already Seagrave could feel his tortured thews slowly mending under the strange influence of this moon; but the miraculous process was hindered by the shuddering tension drawing his spread-eagled body between the four points of his bonds. The pain was blinding, and, for a time, he found himself fading in and out of consciousness.
The Kamir guards had been replaced by a single powerfully muscular Trayken. No longer content to stand watch on the roof, the expressionless Rayver stood rigidly beside the ladder, his leister vertical at his side.
"My compliments to the draykhis," Seagrave rasped hoarsely through clenched teeth. "The Dons would pay handsomely for a man like that."
The Rayver gave no indication he had heard; perhaps he did not speak Kamir. Seagrave closed his eyes and fought to control the terrible shaking. In his mind, he cursed his stupidity. Why had he rescued that Trayken, with freedom finally in his grasp? Why had he not run while he had the chance? Then too, if only he had remembered to take the punch spike brought to him by Montaz -- he might have succeeded in killing Dol Hashar instead of being recaptured.
Of course, conversely, if he had still been recaptured and the punch spike discovered, they would have realized that Montaz had aided him in his escape. He tried not to imagine what they might do to the little slave girl should they find out...
For a moment, with eyes closed, Seagrave found the thought of Montaz conjured up the imaginary scent of roses -- the scent of her. Then he felt soft smooth hands gently caressing his leg through his breeks and warm lips lightly touching the tensed flat of his stomach.
He opened his eyes and looked down.
Montaz gazed up at him with unshed tears sparkling in her emerald eyes. She kissed him again, then cradled her dark head against his waist. Her round shoulders trembled silently.
"Don't go soft on me now, girl," Seagrave told her huskily. "I escaped once and I can do it again." Then he remembered the Rayver and he added quickly: "And there's nothing you can do to stop me."
Montaz glanced up in surprise, a questioning knit to her brows. She saw the direction of his gaze and shook her head. "The Rayver does not speak Kamir. We can speak freely in front of him."
"Well, just the same -- I don't think we should say too much."
Suddenly, the tears broke from around her upturned eyes. "Oh, Moryan -- they told me what Dol Hashar did to you. It was so horrible."
"I've known worse," Seagrave replied grimly. He might have added: thanks to Hengist. "Besides, because of this moon of yours, I feel better already." That was not exactly the truth; it was an effort to keep from blacking out, and even the slight pressure of the girl's slim hands on his hips caused his shoulders to flare with pain. He set his teeth and said nothing.
"I have brought you something to drink," Montaz said suddenly. "Vinala juice."
She retrieved a pointed cup from the rack on the bed chain, and raised it to his lips. The liquid was cool and refreshing, and it served to soothe his raw throat. As Montaz lowered the cup, Seagrave smacked his lips and grinned faintly.
"Girl, you're a wonder," he said. "When I get out of here, remind me to marry you."
Searching his stock of Kamir terms, Seagrave translated: "Remind me to bind with you."
Montaz's eyes widened, and she shook her head quickly. "We could never bind," she insisted, as if the mere thought filled her with horror. "I am a slave girl. I can be owned -- but I cannot bind with a man."
Seagrave frowned, silent for a space. "Maybe so, girl," he said carefully, "but -- while I won't pretend the thought of my own beautiful slave girl doesn't have its appeal -- I personally wouldn't want my future decided on the basis of the shape of my ears."
Her mystified gaze shifted from side to side as she studied his ears closely. "But why, Moryan?" she asked, perplexed. "You have earlobes -- you're not a slave."
"I think you've missed my poi -- ah!" His eyes squeezed tight, wincing as a surge of hot pain coursed between his shoulders. Montaz inhaled sharply, her fingers clenching fiercely on his hips, her anguish seemingly greater than his own. After a moment, Seagrave opened his eyes and smiled weakly. "Don't fret, girl," he said. "I'll be all right."
Before Montaz could speak, the Rayver stepped forward, rapping his leister sharply on the floor. Seagrave frowned, for a terrible moment thinking the guard intended to attack Montaz. But the girl assured him hurriedly: "I am only permitted to visit you for short periods. I must go now. Is there anything I should bring you when I return?"
"Another narse would be nice," he replied, with grim humour.
For a moment, she hesitated, and he could see there was something else she wanted to say. "What is it, girl? Out with it, quick."
"One of the other slave girls told me Dol Hashar wants to question you about a green tal-stone," she said fretfully. "He plans to come here tonight. I am afraid, Moryan. I have heard terrible things about Dol Hashar. I am afraid of what he may do to you."
Seagrave studied her with growing fondness, finding her touching concern almost made even the prospect of being repeatedly skinned alive seem worthwhile. "Don't worry, girl."
But, even to his own ears, it sounded hollow.
With Montaz gone, Seagrave concentrated on resting and recouping lost strength -- not easily done in his present position. His back was to the doorway so he could not see outside, but, gradually, the room grew darker and the air cooled as the evening waned. During the changing of the guard, the gold globular lantern was unshuttered, the yellow glim-gem inside radiating gentle luminance at odds with the dark mood of the scene.
The earliest part of the night was the darkest, when Korash was a semicircle in the sky. Later, as the great planet waxed toward full, a crimson glow suffused the prison with its sultry warmth, mingling with the pale lantern light. The pain in Seagrave's shoulders eased with the passage of time, until it was reduced to a dull muscular throbbing.
For a time, Seagrave hung silent and still, his eyes closed --
Abruptly he looked up, his gaze directed at the boards overhead. Someone was walking on the roof -- someone wearing boots. The Rayver too had heard the sound and glanced up with slitted eyes, uneasily adjusting his grip on the leister. Momentarily the footsteps faltered, as if undecided -- then black boots appeared on the top rung of the ladder, and a figure clambered down into the scarlet light. For a moment, the visitor's back was to Seagrave; but then the man turned -- and Seagrave felt a twisting in his guts.
It was Bramal Bren.
This was the man who had struck Montaz, who Seagrave had humiliated, who had promised to have his revenge.
Seagrave's muscles rolled sinuously along his arms as he grimly tested his bonds. They were as tight as cable. Bramal Bren looked up at him, purple features unreadable -- but his eyes slowly crawled over the pirate's spread-eagled figure, appraising the glass cords binding wrists and ankles. When his gaze again met Seagrave's, there was a victorious gleam in the guardsman's look.
Bramal Bren turned and spoke a word to the Rayver. It wasn't spoken in Kamir, so Seagrave couldn't understand. The Trayken shook his head in a way that suggested Bramal Bren was not welcome here, then indicated the ladder with one hand, opening his mouth to speak --
In that instant, with the Rayver momentarily distracted, Bramal Bren lashed out. The Trayken gasped, his jet eyes bulging as black blood frothed down his chin. Without a sound, he pitched forward onto the floor. Bramal Bren bent and callously wiped the two glass tips of his punch spike on the Trayken's skirt. He straightened and regarded Seagrave with a malevolent grin cutting his cruel lips.
"I told you I would make you suffer," Bramal Bren hissed vindictively. "But I never imagined anything so wonderful as this."
"They say you broke a Trayken in half with just a stick," Bramal Bren continued. "You broke my leister in half, as well. I think you like to break things in half. Is that true -- do you like to break things in half?" When Seagrave still refused to respond, Bramal Bren glanced down and deftly retrieved the Rayver's leister from under the body. "Perhaps I will see if I can break you in half," he said contemplatively. "How would you like that? Shall we see how many blows it takes to break a man in two?"
Slowly he raised the leister, brandishing it haft-end-up like a club, his fists gleaming bloodily in the carmine glow from the door.
"Draykhis Dol Hashar won't be pleased if you kill me," Seagrave commented slowly. "He seemed quite interested in torturing me himself. I hate to think what he would do to you if you robbed him of the pleasure."
Bramal Bren hesitated unsurely -- but in a moment the crafty smile returned. "Who will tell him?" he asked, not unreasonably.
He raised the leister in white-knuckled fists --
Suddenly a slim blue figure sprang down through the hatchway, landing full on Bramal Bren's back. The guardsman's legs crumpled under the sudden weight, and both he and his attacker tumbled atop the dead Trayken.
Montaz struggled desperately to her feet, her eyes wide with amazement at her own daring and at the unexpected success of her attack. Seeing the slave girl, Seagrave felt a surge of pride -- even as he swallowed air and shouted: "Girl, he has a knife!"
"A knife?" She glanced at Seagrave in confusion. "What is a knife?"
Seagrave cursed himself for a fool. "A punch spike!" he cried -- but it was too late. His distraction had allowed Bramal Bren to regain his feet, and the guardsman laughed mockingly as he saw who it was who had attacked him. The glass spikes jutted from his knuckles like gleaming claws.
"Montaz," he hissed, taking a quick step forward to prevent the girl from escaping up the ladder. "You've saved me the trouble of seeking you out. This is better than I had dared hope. Now I will make you scream before his eyes, and he will only be able to watch. Come, slave girl -- hah!"
He lunged at her, simultaneously thrusting with the glass spikes. With a horrified cry and a lithe twist of her body, Montaz dodged the deadly weapon, scrambling frantically behind Seagrave. With another shout, Bramal Bren rushed after her. As fleet as Montaz was, Bramal Bren was fleeter; he seized the girl roughly by the arm and flung her down on the hanging bed.
Bramal Bren had been correct in his assessment of the situation; for Seagrave, there was no greater torment than being able to hear and see Montaz writhing under the guardsman's assault, yet being unable to help her. His entire body rippled with his frenzied exertions, but the cords were unyielding.
his head, he could see Bramal Bren kneeling astride the trembling body
of Montaz like a cobra rearing to strike, the light glinting off the glass
spikes which the slave girl sought in vain to ward off with one hand.
But then, abruptly, Bramal Bren stiffened, his brows furrowing in a puzzled frown. Orange fluid trickled thinly from his lips; the glass spikes dropped onto the girl's stomach -- and the guardsman slid limply off the bed, sprawling grotesquely on the mat-covered floor.
Light flashed from the orange-stained punch spike gripped in Montaz's trembling hands.
Seagrave heaved a sigh of relief. "Good work, girl," he said. "Now, quick -- untie me." His eyes cast to the dead Rayver. "It looks like Bramal Bren may just have saved my life."
Montaz worked feverishly to undo the bonds, speaking with breathless urgency. "I had left the punch spike on the bed under the sheet," she explained. "Dol Hashar plans to torture you to death. He is on his way here right now, and I barely made it ahead of him. He is likely already descending the upper ladder. But there is a ship coming into dock and I think it will pass close to us -- if we hurry, you can jump down to it as you planned." Seagrave's feet were untied, but he continued to dangle by his wrists, his teeth grinding. "You will need some place to hide until you are strong enough to travel," Montaz continued, as she stretched to untie his wrists. "I know of a deserted storehouse in the city." She proceeded to give him explicit directions to the hideout.
Freed from his bindings, Seagrave dropped to his knees, nearly passing out from the pain in his shoulders. Desperately Montaz helped him to his feet, shepherding him out onto the balcony. As he leaned heavily against the rail, she thrust the punch spike under his belt, a hook on the handle holding it in place.
In the warm glow of midnight, Seagrave saw the vast airbag of a wingship majestically approaching, looming out of the scarlet haze. Across the way, the manatyr watcher stood at his station.
"It's no good," Seagrave said, bitterly shaking his head. "That damn guard will see. They'll be there to recapture me as soon as the ship makes dock."
"No, he won't." There was fierce resolution in her voice, assurance in the rigid carriage of her spine. "I will distract the watcher while you jump."
"You? But how?" Then he had a thought. "Now, wait a minute. I'm not leaving you behind this time. If I jump, you jump with me."
"Moryan, I already told you -- I cannot desert my master Khomas Khan. I cannot go with you."
"Damn it, girl -- they'll kill you for helping me to escape."
"They won't know you escaped. I will tell them you went mad with fear and attacked me, then threw yourself to your death rather than face torture. I will say Bramal Bren murdered the guard, then untied you so he could kill you -- which is nearly the truth."
Angered by her obstinacy, Seagrave seized Montaz roughly by the shoulders, his voice a growl. "I'm not leaving you behind and that's that."
For a moment she looked up into his face, her green eyes glimmering in the lurid glow of Korash, her ripe lips parted.
Her soft hands spread suddenly, defensively across his broad chest as Seagrave drew her sleek body to his and pressed his mouth to the straining arc of her throat. Her eyes closed, and a weak moan passed from her as if dreaming. His mouth sought the fullness of her lips, crushing them with a bruising passion and smothering the suffering sounds. For just a moment, her lithesome body responded to his touch, arching fluidly against his hard flesh so that he could feel the rapid throbbing of her pulse --
Abruptly booted footfalls stamped on the roof. Montaz twisted desperately from Seagrave's embrace, her chest rising and falling as she stumbled back to the rail. She glanced down at the wingship -- still too far away to jump to. Her gaze leaped to Seagrave, urgent and pleading.
"I will distract the watcher," she said with breathless conviction. Then, without another word, she leaped nimbly over the railing and plunged from sight.
A startled shout broke from the pirate's lips as he sprang to the rail -- but too late to catch her. Glancing over the side, he saw her slim body dwindling with nightmarish inevitability as she plummeted down, down toward the waves a thousand feet below.
Suddenly there came a shrill whirring of wings. Looking up, Seagrave saw the manatyr watcher leap from his balcony and descend in a breathless, nearly vertical dive. Seagrave marvelled at the watcher's reflexes, the Kamir having responded without hesitation to the sight of a woman plunging to her death. Seagrave suspected such accidents happened often enough to afford ample practice -- but still, the rescue was a truly amazing accomplishment. Far below, the watcher caught the plummeting slave girl just moments before she would have been dashed to pieces on the water.
Relieved, Seagrave heard booted steps descending the ladder into the prison behind him; Dol Hashar's voice rose in angry alarm as the draykhis discovered the two bodies. A desperate glance showed Seagrave that the wingship was not going to pass directly underneath the cabin as Montaz had thought; instead its passage was bearing the great vessel slightly to one side...
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Savage Miraya is copyright 1998, by Jeffrey Blair Latta.
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