Priestess: Chapter 18 – Fresh Sea Air
Aliera groaned as she struggled awake. She must have slept in, she’d be late for the morning Observances. She had to hurry – it was unthinkable for a High Priestess to be late. She rolled over to get out of bed – and hit a wall.
Startled, she opened heavy eyes to see an unfamiliar room. She glanced around – this wasn’t her room. It was small, timber walls, a cramped – and very hard – bunk….
And it was moving. Rocking from side to side. Aliera pushed herself up and swung her legs off the bunk onto the floor. Her head was aching, her mouth felt like she’d been eating sawdust. She groaned again as she forced herself upright and wracked her memory – what had happened?
She could remember Sabbath eve – Goran could hardly bear to touch her even then – and after he’d abandoned her and gone off to find something more interesting to do she’d slipped out to say goodbye to Kevan.
He’d taken her on board to show her around the ship, she could remember that, and he’d given her something to drink – he said it’d keep her warm. She remembered the heavy, sweet taste of it. And then – then she felt so sleepy, and then – nothing.
She must have been sick. Or maybe she was just so tired, or she didn’t want Kevan to leave. For some reason she’d fallen asleep. Aliera stumbled to the tiny port-hole. A beam of sunlight hurt her eyes as she squinted to see – but that wasn’t the familiar wharf, the docks and harbour of her city. She was looking as a distant coastline, low cliffs and an empty shore. Where was she? Why was the ship moving?
She must have been so sick, or tired, that she fell asleep, and Kevan had put her on the bunk. But what then? He can’t have forgotten her. Maybe he thought someone else had taken her off the ship. That must be it – he’d told one of his servants to take her home and the man had forgotten.
But surely he’d have taken care of her himself? He can’t have forgotten her, can he? Had something happened to him? Maybe he was sick too, maybe he was suffering somewhere and needed her to take care of him. Poor, dear, loving Kevan who’d do anything for her – perhaps he needed her now. She had to find him. At least HE wanted her, even if her husband didn’t….
Aliera stumbled as she left the cabin, staggering as she went along the cramped passageway to the ladder-like stairs she could see at the end. She pushed doors open as she went, but the other tiny cabins were empty, grubby blankets left crumpled on hard bunks.
She could see sunlight streaming down from above, and managed to scramble up the steep stairs onto the deck. Somebody here would know.
The sunlight dazzled her, but gradually the throbbing in her head settled down and she could make sense of what she saw.
Some men – sailors – were pulling on ropes, running from one side of the deck to the other and doing something with the sails. Others lounged on the deck. Aliera shivered a little as she saw them leering at her. She had to find Kevan, or the Captain – someone in authority who could explain all this to her.
“So you’re awake at last.”
Aliera spun round to see Kevan coming towards her.
“Kevan! What happened? Why have we left the city? Is something wrong?” She hurried towards him.
“Nothing’s wrong at all. It couldn’t be better.” And he reached out for her and slapped her hard across the face.
Aliera stumbled backwards in shock, tripping to sprawl awkwardly on the deck. Kevan stood over her, expressionless as she stared wide-eyed in shock, “All you had to do, you stupid bitch, was tell them you wanted me to be Consort. And you couldn’t even manage that much. I put up with your whining drivel about LOVE and CARING and all that rubbish – I wasted MONTHS on you – and got NOTHING.” Aliera crawled backwards, frantic to escape the fury in his face as he spoke, the terrible words cutting into her as he worked himself into a rage. “Then I get a posting to the newly conquered territories and your damned father and bastard of a husband – I know it was all his fault – they come up with some damned requirement for army service – they’ve taken my slaves, my money, my title, my posting – they’ve taken EVERYTHING FROM ME!”
Aliera whimpered as he kicked her, she couldn’t comprehend this stranger with Kevan’s face. Where was his loving look, his tender courtly treatment of her? She tried to crawl further away, sprawling forward as he kicked her to the jeers of the watching sailors.
“But I took something from them, didn’t I? I got their precious Priestess. And you’re going to make that Offering again and again, we’ll act it out till I tire of you, then maybe I’ll let some of my friends here have a turn.” The sailors started whistling and cheering, mocking her pleas for help. “They’ve lost their jobs too, they were making a fine profit bringing captured slaves for discerning customers – but that bloody stupid Edict killed that trade too. And they’d have lost their ship if they hadn’t got out in time. Ohhh yes, your father owes us all – we’ve all lost because of him and his big ideas. And you’ll be the one to pay.”
Aliera reached a railing, pulling herself up to stand and face her attackers, “Kevan, but – wait – you can’t – you said….”
“I said a lot of things. I said whatever I had to. And you were SO easy, poor little lonely princess. Spoilt brat who’d never had anyone say NO to you. You’ll be the one saying NO now, you’ll be begging, and nobody’s going to care about you at all. I can’t wait to see the first welts on that lovely skin. Let’s have a look at what we’ll be enjoying!” And he reached out and tore her thin robe away, tearing at the shreds of fabric until she huddled naked on the deck. Hot tears coursed down her face as she looked around, frantic for a friendly face, someone to help her. There’d always been someone to protect her.
But now she was alone, surrounded by leering faces, greedy eyes, grasping hands. She’d been naked for the Offering, but it hadn’t been like this. That was part of the ceremony. And Goran had been there to help her through it.
She’d probably never see him again. Even if she survived this, he’d never want to touch her again. “Kevan – PLEASE – I don’t…”
“Don’t speak. Livestock doesn’t speak until it’s told to. You’re going to need a lot of training, and I’m going to enjoy every minute of it. First my men are going to tie you up in position, here on the deck, so that we can all get a really good look at you. Let’s see if a PRINCESS is any different to any other little slut. Then I think we’ll enjoy watching while they blister you until you’ve screamed yourself hoarse – I’m tired of that whiny voice of yours. And then you can entertain me, and my new friends here – we’ll all get a little turn worshipping the Priestess in our own way. And then tomorrow we’ll do it all again. And the day after, and the next day – until you’re a very obedient well-trained little slut who’ll beg for the chance to please us. I’m going to enjoy every second of your training.”
Aliera felt sick with terror. She’d give anything for this to be a nightmare, just to wake up in her own bed again. She closed her eyes, but when she opened them it was to see that look of gloating hatred on his face. Kevan glanced to each side of her – his grooms were waiting, impassive, ready to carry out their familiar duties.
Aliera started to scream as they closed in on her.