Maiden of pain, p.4

Maiden of Pain, page 4


Maiden of Pain

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  “Because I love her, of course.”

  “And I love Loviatar. She is the only mother I have known. I want to show her my devotion, just as you wish to show your daughter how much you care for her.”

  “I don’t think the situations are necessarily equivalent, but I guess I can see your point.” Prisus shrugged. The pair walked in silence to the waiting ship and boarded.

  For the first two days of the voyage, Ythnel was violently ill. The roll of the ship on the waves of the sea wreaked havoc on her stomach, and she spent most of her time leaning over a rail on deck, or over a pail in her quarters. Master Saelis was finally able to procure some sort of root for her from another passenger onboard that, when chewed, prevented nausea.

  By the fourth day, Ythnel was enjoying herself. Gulls soared back and forth with the ship, bolstered by the brisk wind that carried with it the briny smell of the sea. Sail-finned fish leaped from wave to wave before the bow, racing the ship. It was beautiful, this open world of air and water, and quite alien to Ythnel. She lingered at the starboard rail well after sunset, watching the stars twinkling in the night sky, her breath forming puffs of white before her.

  She shivered, hugging herself and rubbing her arms to keep the blood circulating. The wind cut through even the thick coat and mittens she had borrowed from Master Saelis. It was probably best if she headed belowdecks for the night anyway, before he worried why she hadn’t returned to the cabin she shared with Prisus and Leco.

  Ythnel turned and noticed two sailors were watching her from their stations across the deck. Most of the crew was asleep; the current shift included a helmsman along with a single guard fore and aft. These two were supposed to be making repairs to the sails or mending lines or something. Their work lay at their feet.

  The intent behind those stares was unmistakable. Ythnel had seen it many times before, though she usually hadn’t been the target. If necessary, she was confident she could handle the two men but decided it was better to remove herself from the situation. She strode toward the hatch that would take her belowdecks, not even bothering to glance at the sailors.

  The approaching sound of boots on wood planks told her they were not going to give up so easily. Ythnel stopped and pointed at one of them.

  “Fall!” she ordered. Propelled by divine energy channeled from Loviatar, the force of the command struck one of the sailors and knocked him prone.

  The sailor who kept his feet jumped slightly at the obvious use of magic. Then he visibly screwed up his courage. “You’re gonna pay for that, witch.” The man continued to advance, his face twisted into a lecherous leer.

  “What’s going on here?” Leco emerged from out of the hatch. Ythnel saw his eyes dart between her and the two sailors. “Master Saelis sent me to look for you.” He pulled Ythnel past him and closed the hatch after they both had descended.

  “Thank you for your help, Leco,” Ythnel said as they started down the narrow corridor toward their cabin.

  “Don’t thank me. I’m just doing what Master Saelis asked of me. Those men could have had their way with you for all I care.”

  Ythnel pulled up short, shocked by Leco’s harsh words. “Why? What have I done to you?”

  “You are a Loviatan. I know what that means. Master Saelis’s wife was a Loviatan before they were married. I told him it was a bad idea to hire you. Rest assured, I will be watching you. I won’t let you hurt him or his daughter.” He continued down the corridor without waiting for Ythnel to respond.

  She stood there for a moment after he disappeared into the cabin, shocked. The man hated her simply because of her faith. She had heard stories about this kind of prejudice from sisters in the manor, but now that she had come face-to-face with such a situation, Ythnel realized she hadn’t really understood what those sisters experienced. A deep sadness washed over her as she let herself into the cabin and quietly slipped into her bunk.

  On the afternoon of the sixth day, they arrived in Luthcheq. The reflection of the sun off the white buildings created a dazzling brilliance that nearly blinded Ythnel, but she would not close her eyes. She had never been beyond the manor’s grounds before; she had read of other cities besides Bezantur but had never seen them. All she had known were walls of dark stone. Here everything was so bright and clean. Even the movement of the crowds seemed orderly. Ythnel feared that if she blinked, if she looked away for just a second, it would all vanish like a dream.

  Prisus had Leco run ahead to fetch a carriage while he and Ythnel waited with the luggage. As she watched people walk by, she noted how different they looked. There was a hint of olive to their skin tone, and their eyes did not have the same tilt as hers. Most of them were short, like Prisus. The men wore their hair cropped, with the bangs brushed down onto their foreheads. The women had their hair pinned up in back, with several loose strands of curls trailing down to their shoulders.

  A carriage pulled up, and Leco jumped off the back and began loading their belongings. Prisus motioned for Ythnel to get in then followed, closing the door behind himself. Leco finished with the luggage and climbed up next to the driver. Ythnel’s stomach began to flutter, and her palms sweated as the carriage started off. Prisus had gone over her new duties while they were aboard the ship, but now that she was moments away from meeting his daughter, she was nervous. The world outside the manor was so different. For the first time, she began to feel awkward about her beliefs. It seemed that they now served to alienate her rather than provide a common bond.

  Ythnel wiped her palms on her dress and bit her lip. Prisus noticed the nervous gestures and smiled. “You’ll do fine, Ythnel. I’m sure Iuna will like you. She’s really a good girl. It’s just that her mother’s death hit her hard. It hit us all pretty hard.”

  Prisus sighed and looked out the window of the carriage. Ythnel gazed out as well, thinking the sights might help her to relax. They had left the docks behind and passed a solitary tower in the center of a well-tended garden. Four giant trees surrounded the tower, obscuring all but a single window at the top from view.

  “The tower of Naeros Karanok,” Ythnel breathed.

  “So, you are versed in the politics of our city,” Prisus chuckled. “Let’s test that knowledge, shall we? Anything more you can tell me about the ruling family?”

  “From what I understand, Naeros is also known as the Marker because he likes to disfigure prisoners. He’s the grandson of Maelos Karanok, the family patriarch and ruler of the city, though that’s mostly in name only. Jaerios, Maelos’s son and Naeros’s father, is the real source of power. I believe Jaerios also has a daughter, but I know nothing about her.”

  “Excellent.” Prisus nodded. “What else do you know about Luthcheq politics?”

  Ythnel thought for a moment as the tower faded from view. “The Karanoks have decreed that all arcane magic is outlawed. Wizards and sorcerers, and those who associate with them, are summarily executed—a policy that has caused tension with neighbors and hindered the economy of the city.”

  “An understandable point of view for one who comes from a nation ruled by wizards, and not without merit,” Prisus conceded.

  The carriage pulled into a private courtyard and stopped in front of a two-story building squeezed between its neighbors. It had a flat roof and an unremarkable exterior. A short flight of stairs led up to a plain but sturdy wooden door. Ythnel followed Prisus in.

  “Iuna, precious, I’m back,” Prisus called out when he entered. For a moment, they stood in silence in the middle of the living area. A beautiful woven rug covered most of the stone floor. Two sofas and a chaise lounge formed a semicircle before a marble fireplace where a small fire burned lazily. A doorway beyond the sofas led into a dining room.

  “Papa!” A young girl of about eleven summers stood at the top of a staircase to the right. She wore a knee-length blue dress with lace ruffles at the shoulders rather than sleeves. Her dark hair was done up much like that of the women Ythnel had seen in the streets.

  Prisus st
rode to the base of the stairs and opened his arms, catching Iuna as she leaped down the last two steps. He gave her a twirling hug then set her down. “I want you to meet someone,” he said, turning her to face Ythnel. “This is Ythnel. She’s going to help you with your studies.”

  Iuna’s smile suddenly turned into a pout. “I thought we decided it was just going to be you and me, Papa.”

  “Now, Iuna, you know how much I want that. But I can’t always be here because of business, so you need someone to look after you when I’m gone.”

  Iuna crossed her arms over her chest, unconvinced. “I don’t like her. Find a different one.”

  “There isn’t anyone else,” Prisus sighed. “Just give it some time, precious. Why don’t you show her around the house? That will give you both a chance to get to know each other.”

  “All right, Papa. I’ll do it for you.” Iuna stood on her tiptoes and gave Prisus a kiss.

  “Excellent.” He smiled. “Now, I have to run to the Trade Center, but I’ll be back by dinner. Have a good afternoon.”

  “Good-bye, Papa.” Iuna waved as Prisus headed back outside. Then she turned to Ythnel. Her lips were pinched, and anger smoldered in her brown eyes. “Follow me.”

  Iuna led Ythnel up the stairs and down the hall to a small room with a single bed, a dresser, and a desk. Ythnel’s belongings were sitting on the bed.

  “This is your room. Not much”—Iuna sniffed—“but plenty for a slave.” She looked pointedly at Ythnel then pushed past her. On the other side of the hall, they stopped before a closed door. Iuna opened it to reveal another bedroom. Dolls sat upon a chest at the foot of a four-poster bed. The floor was covered with several matching rugs. An elaborate vanity stood near a large window in one wall that looked out into the courtyard.

  “This is my room. Slaves are not allowed in here without my permission.” Iuna stepped into her room and turned back to Ythnel. “And that concludes the tour.” She slammed the door shut.

  It had been a long day, and Ythnel was glad to finally be in her room. She moved about in silence, unpacking her things. The emotional turmoil of the day manifested itself in a physical draining of energy, and sleep beckoned. Ythnel sat on the bed, fighting the temptation. It would be so easy just to lie back and close her eyes, to forgo the evening prayer for much needed rest. She wasn’t at the manor anymore. No one would know.

  I would know, her conscience scolded. And Loviatar would know.

  Ythnel picked herself up and undressed. She took the whip from around her neck and knelt on the floor, her back to the door. The words of the evening prayer began to form in her mind, but she could not focus. Iuna’s petulant face shattered Ythnel’s concentration every time she closed her eyes. The spoiled brat infuriated her. Yet there was something about the girl that reminded Ythnel of herself. And there was the fact that her mother had been a Loviatan. Perhaps Ythnel’s being here was a part of some greater purpose. Perhaps the Maiden of Pain had plans for the young girl.

  First things first, she told herself. You’ve been hired to train this girl how to be a lady. Focus on and accomplish that before you start imagining you’re here on some divinely ordained mission.

  She sighed. It was an arduous task set before her, regardless. She would not be able to do it alone.

  “Oh, Loviatar, the Willing Whip, I pray for the strength and wisdom to discipline this child. Let me help her, as I was helped.”

  Ythnel sat quietly for a moment, looking inward for that center of peace and order. A weight lifted from her heart, and she knew her supplication had been answered. With a calmed mind, she quietly began the chant of the evening prayer, letting the rhythm sooth and refresh her. She raised the whip.

  A creak from the floorboards outside her door jerked Ythnel’s attention away from the prayer.

  “I thought we agreed to knock first, Master Saelis.” She remained crouched, her head bowed while she waited for an answer. None came. “Master Saelis?” This time she rose. As she did, Ythnel heard the patter of little feet running away.


  When Ythnel made her way downstairs, she found Prisus and Iuna already seated at the table eating morningfeast. A place was set on Prisus’s left, opposite Iuna. Assuming it was for her, Ythnel slid into the empty seat.

  “Good morning, Ythnel,” Prisus said, dabbing the corner of his mouth with a napkin. “We wondered if you were going to show.” A middle-aged woman in an apron appeared with a plate of steaming sausage and two eggs, which she set before Ythnel. “I don’t believe you’ve met Libia, our cook, yet.” Libia gave a small curtsy before disappearing back into the kitchen.

  “I apologize for my tardiness, Master Saelis. It seems I overslept. I will submit to whatever penance you see fit.” There was no regret in Ythnel’s voice. It had been an honest mistake. She knew the importance of discipline, though, and did not fear punishment. Even a minor transgression like this received some sort of flogging back at the manor.

  Prisus waved her off as he lifted a glass of water to his lips.

  “Perhaps if you did not stay up all night casting spells, you would be able to get up with the rest of us,” Iuna chided.

  Water sprayed from Prisus’s mouth.

  “What?” Prisus yelled, all color draining from his face. He turned to Ythnel. “Is this true?” Without waiting for a response, he turned back to Iuna. “I don’t care,” he continued, “I do not want such things spoken in this house. Ever! Am I understood?” Iuna nodded sullenly.

  “I was not casting spells, Master Saelis,” Ythnel said evenly. She looked straight at Iuna, but the girl would not meet her gaze. “I pray every morning and evening as part of my daily devotion to Loviatar.”

  “Be that as it may—” Prisus paused, taking a deep, steadying breath. “—why don’t we all just forget about the whole affair? I’m going to be in my study for most of the morning. I suggest you two finish morningfeast and begin Iuna’s lesson.” He excused himself and left.

  Ythnel and Iuna continued their meal in silence. Ythnel efficiently cut up her sausage and ate each piece with a bite of egg. Iuna lethargically stirred her food with a fork for a few moments then sighed. Pushing her unfinished plate away, she got up from the table. Ythnel stabbed the last piece of sausage with her fork and shoved it in her mouth. She used the napkin to wipe off her face and followed Iuna. They climbed the stairs, Iuna seemingly unaware of Ythnel’s presence behind her. At the top, Iuna surprised Ythnel and instead of continuing down the hall to the parlor next to Ythnel’s quarters, turned to the right and walked straight to her bedroom, closing the door.

  “Iuna?” Ythnel called through the door. “You heard your father. We should begin your studies.” She waited, but there was no reply. “Iuna open this door.”

  Sudden anger at Iuna’s disrespect welled up inside Ythnel. She wanted to fling the door open, charge in, and spank the girl. Undisciplined punishment teaches nothing, Ythnel told herself, pushing the emotion back. The vacuum was quickly filled with uncertainty. She felt as if she stood on the edge of a precipice as doubt fought with years of indoctrination. Her mind knew Iuna needed to be taught her place, but Ythnel’s heart hesitated, questioning if it was her responsibility, if corporal punishment was the correct solution.

  This is the reason I’m here, she mentally affirmed. Pain brings strength of spirit.

  Ythnel opened the door and stepped inside. Iuna stood there, facing her with her arms crossed.

  “I did not give you permission,” she said defiantly.

  “I don’t need your permission. I am not a slave. Your father has employed my services to help raise you,” Ythnel said sternly. “Now it is time to end this game.”

  Iuna’s eyes blazed, and her arms went rigid at her sides, her hands balled into fists. “How dare you! You are not my mother, you pile of troll dung!”

  Something stirred in the back of Ythnel’s mind. A memory rushed back, sweeping her away.

  Ythnel slumped at her desk, her head resting on
her folded arms. Her stomach had been hurting since the morning, when she had discovered some blood in her undergarments. Sister Larulene, Mistress of Initiates, had told her it was a sign she was entering womanhood. It had done little to comfort her, and she was in a foul mood. All she wanted to do was go back to her room and curl up in bed. Instead, she sat in class, listening to Sister Yenael describing dwarf anatomy.

  “Who can tell me the five most sensitive spots on a male dwarf?” the sister asked. The following silence was soon broken by the click of boot heels approaching on the hard stone floor. Ythnel slowly lifted her head to find Sister Yenael looming over her. “Answer the question, Initiate.”

  “I don’t know,” Ythnel sighed.

  “Are we not feeling well?” Sister Yenael asked, her voice full of compassion. Ythnel nodded. “I don’t care! Answer the question.” The sister brought her fist down with a crash on the desk. Ythnel jerked upright in her seat.

  “I said I don’t know. Look, those two are raising their hands. Why don’t you go ask them?” She glared are the sister.

  Sister Yenael’s eyes narrowed, and the two became locked in a battle of wills. From the corner of her vision, Ythnel saw something fly at her. She turned toward it instinctively but was not fast enough. She was struck across the cheek by the sister’s hand. The blow knocked her out of her seat, bursts of light filling her vision. She started to cry as Sister Yenael walked back to the front of the class.

  Iuna sat on the floor, rubbing her right cheek. Ythnel held her hand poised for a backswing.

  “You … you hit me,” the girl sobbed in disbelief. Then she started to scream. “Papa!” Ythnel heard footsteps pounding up the stairs and turned to see Prisus running down the hall toward them.

  “What is going on in here?”

  Iuna got up and ran past Ythnel into her father’s embrace. “She hit me, Papa.” Prisus bent down and cupped his daughter’s chin gently in his hand, examining the red mark emblazoned on her cheek.


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