The view from the ridge was spectacular. Far below her gleamed the thin ribbon of a rushing mountain stream. Evergreen colours mixed with the yellows and reds of fall. The sun shone brightly, warming the autumn air. Kara twisted the reins of her mount. It wasn’t a bird, but it wasn’t exactly a horse either. It was more like a horse with claws and teeth. Rezar called it a jarah, and it proved aptly suited to the rocky and steep terrain. After riding a mohr, however, the jarah wasn’t that difficult to ride and Rezar had been most impressed with the way she was able to hold a saddle. Valessa rode less well and that had kept them to a fairly sedate pace.
There were only five of them. Rezar had brought along only two escorts, having little fear of attack in his own land. They conversed as they rode, Rezar pointing out various features of the wooded landscape and at the same time attempting to learn more abut Kara in a less formal setting. They had engaged in conversation before, but always surrounded by numerous members of the court. Rezar was able to pull his mount alongside Kara’s and speak privately with her.
Kara found him an engaging conversationalist, very knowledgeable and entertaining. There was one aspect of their discourse, however, that bothered Kara somewhat. Rezar was very interested in who she was and where she had come from. It was an area that she answered only vaguely, not sure of how much to tell him. Would he after all believe that she was a superheroine who had been captured and sent to his world where due to the effect of the red sun she was rendered powerless?
“Are there others like you?” asked Rezar. “I have never seen anyone with such hair and skin. You are beautiful beyond compare.”
Kara found herself blushing at that remark. Fortunately she was no longer semi-nude, but instead dressed in sensible riding breeches and a shirt, jacket and cloak that afforded her privacy. The clothes were well cut, however, and could not hide her body’s abundant charms. “My lord,” she answered. “You flatter me. Surely there must be many women in your kingdom more attractive than I.” Her eyes turned in Valessa’s direction.
“Rezar caught her meaning. “The girl is indeed beautiful. But she is like the shade compared to the sun when measured against your beauty.”
Kara’s intended reply was cut off by a shout from one of the escorts. “My lord, bandits!
Save yourself; we are under attack!”
Kara’s head jerked in the direction of the escort. Riding toward them were several dozen heavily armed men. Rezar seemed to hesitate, then looking at Kara shouted, “Ride, my lady. I will try to hold them off.”
“Hold them off?” Kara shouted. Rezar had only his sword. Neither she nor Valessa had any weapons at all. He was committing suicide.
Desperately Kara looked for something she could fight with. She was after all a heroine – or at least she used to be. Riding toward Valessa she repeated Rezar’s order. “Ride. Try and find help.” Then she galloped over to a stand of trees that resembled the evergreens she was familiar with on Earth and found what she was looking for. Several trees, overwhelmed by the harsh mountain weather stood dead but still attached by their roots. Hoping that one of them might serve her purpose she grabbed the top of one of them and exerting all her strength managed to break it off at the roots.
It was a crude weapon, but better than nothing. She didn’t have time to strip off the dead branches. Placing it under her arm she rode to the attack. Already Rezar and the two escorts were engaged in desperate battle with the attackers.
The trail she and Rezar had been riding on led between thick forest and overlooked a steep drop into a picturesque mountain valley. It was only this fact that enabled the three men to have any chance of holding off the more than a score of attackers that were trying to overwhelm them. But they were hard pressed. Through sheer weight of numbers their attackers were forcing them back, and already a number of the attackers were moving through the trees, seeking to outflank them.
Kara charged straight forward, holding her makeshift lance the way Theran had shown her when she had ridden a mohr into battle. The jarah was much bigger and more powerful than a mohr, and helped by the fact that Kara was charging down a slight incline her impact as she struck the enemy was formidable. It also helped that her arrival on the scene was totally unexpected.
Charging between Rezar and the soldier on his left, her twenty-foot tree trunk struck the closest attacker full in the chest. Had it been a proper lance she would have skewered the man she struck, but the top of the tree simply snapped off, fragments of wood splintering in all directions. The bandit it struck, however, had little time to appreciate his good fortune. The impact lifted him from the saddle like a doll and tossed him back into the other bandits, knocking two more of them from their saddles and throwing the others into confusion.
Kara was now surrounded by bandits on all sides. Her lance was useless at such close quarters. Dropping it she attacked the nearest bandit with her bare hands, driving her fingers into his eyes and then as the man screamed in pain, yanking his sheath knife from his belt. She acted without thinking, every action almost instinctive, and yet guided by her training. Raising the blade she stabbed the outlaw through the side of his neck. Almost overwhelmed by excitement, she hardly noticed the blood that shot like a fountain from his severed jugular. Instead her eyes sought his sword as it fell from his fingers.
She caught the blade, not noticing as the blade cut the fingers of her left hand. Grasping the hilt with her right hand she swung the blade at the bandit nearest to her completely unconscious of the danger as she hacked and slashed at the attackers.
Rezar and the two escorts followed her, adding to the utter chaos that ensued as a complete melee erupted. The bandits wavered under the onslaught. They had expected an easy victory. After all, two dozen men against three and two helpless women seemed like good odds. Kara’s sudden attack left them confused and demoralized. Several rode off to a safe distance others backed away from the slashing blades of those they had sought to overwhelm.
Rezar gave a cry of triumph and shouted his battle cry. But he was a bit premature. Behind them the bandits who had circled through the trees now joined the attack, coming at them from behind. And these men were armed not just with swords and knives. Two of them carried bows.
An arrow alerted Kara to the danger, its razor edge almost slicing her cheek. Hauling on the reins of her jarah she whirled it around in the direction in the direction of the bowmen, at the same time shouting a warning.
Another arrow was loosed; this time at Rezar who still had his back turned. Kara acted automatically. For most of her life she had been invulnerable to minor hurts. An arrow would normally have posed no threat. She spurred the jarah between the bowman and Rezar.
The pain as the arrow penetrated her shoulder was so sudden and intense that she couldn’t even scream. For an instant she gazed dumbly at the feathered shaft that had entered just above her right breast, and then with a cry she tumbled from the saddle.
Rezar saw what had happened. Leaping from the saddle he dashed to her side. Kara saw him through a haze of pain. She also saw the bandits close about the two escorts. Surrounded and heavily outnumbered the two men who had fought so bravely threw down their swords. Bandits jumped from their jarahs as Rezar knelt by Kara’s side. She tried to get up, but a wave of pain swept over her. Looking at the place where the arrow jutted from her shoulders she could see her blood welling up, staining her shirt bright red, and then she fainted.
She awoke to a heavily bearded face. She was lying face up on a bed of leaves and all around her trees stretched toward the sky. Her shoulder hurt more than she cared to think about. “Chraga Suhm,” the bearded face muttered. “So beautiful. Too bad you took that arrow. We will have to see that it is removed before we enjoy you.”
The bearded man’s matter-of-fact statement sent a thrill of fear through her. If Kara had not been so weak and in so much pain she would have shuddered. The bearded face smiled. “Your female servant escaped, but we will find her. I have sent three men after her. They have a strong incentive to succeed. When they catch her they have permission to use her anyway they like before bringing her here.”
The man’s words filled Kara with rage. She tried to sit up, but her strength failed her and a wave of pain almost sent her back into unconsciousness.
“You bastards. Take me but let her and the servant go.” Kara turned her head in the direction of Rezar’s voice. He and the two escorts were tied to trees. A rope was wound so tightly around Rezar’s throat he could barely speak, but he had managed to gasp out the words.
The bearded man left Kara and strode over to Rezar. He menaced him with a vicious-looking saw-toothed knife. “You speak bravely, my prince. I would gut you where you stand, but the Littan has ordered me to bring you in alive. Since I cannot kill you….”
With a quick lunge he thrust the blade of his knife into the stomach of one of the escorts. He held it there for a second while the man screamed in agony and then ripped it up through his body until the blade reached his heart.
“You coward,” Rezar gasped.
“Enough,” the bearded man said. “Do not try my patience. You and this golden witch killed seven of my men and wounded five others. I will punish her as she deserves as soon as she is healed enough for me to enjoy her. Fortunately, the Littan said nothing about her. She is mine to do with as I wish. Since you seem to value her and your bodyguard I will use them to obtain your obedience. If you annoy me I will kill your other escort and rape the women without attempting to heal her.”
Rezar closed his mouth, but his eyes glowed with hatred. The bearded man laughed. “It is so fulfilling to have the mighty prince of Gorgos at my mercy. I wish I could be in the Littan’s dungeons when he tortures that look off your face.”
Kara felt sick. She and Rezar had been ambushed by bandits sent by the Littan. No doubt sending her to Rezar's court as payment had been nothing more than a ploy to get Rezar to relax his guard in order that he could be taken prisoner and brought back to the Twarg capital for the Littan’s amusement. If what the Littan did to women was any indication, the bandit chief’s assessment of what he would do to Rezar was probably quite accurate.
The bandit chief returned to Kara. “Well, it is time to dig that arrow out of you. It promises to be painful. I hope you are as strong as you are beautiful.”
Kara whitened. She was terrified of what was going to happen to her. The pain of the arrow shaft protruding from her shoulder seemed to be increasing every second. Her blood pounded in the afflicted area, sending spears of agony through her with every heartbeat.
A second man joined the bandit chief. He was a much smaller man and delicately built. He knelt by her side. “Let’s have a look at this,” he murmured. Taking a small knife from his belt he neatly slit through the material of Kara’s shirt, and peeled the bloody material away from the wound, exposing the shaft of the arrow and all of her right breast.
“Exquisite,” said the thin man running his fingers of over her breast. “Beautifully formed. Like ripe succulent fruit.”
“Forget about her tit, you bastard,” the bandit chief said. “Remove the arrow.”
The thin man nodded and studied the wound. A thin trickle of blood still pulsed from it, although Kara’s flesh had closed about the shaft somewhat reducing the flow. “It appears that she drove the arrowhead deeper and splintered the shaft when she fell from her jarah,” the thin man said. “I may have difficulty in removing all of it.”
“Just get on with it,” the bandit chief ordered. “I don’t care how much you have to cut her, just get it out and stitch the wound. I want her healed as soon as possible.”
“If the bindings around the arrowhead are intact it should come out,” the thin man replied. “Hold her. She may squirm.”
The bearded man gripped Kara’s wrists, pinning her arms over her head and ignoring the scream of pain the action caused. The thin man shifted his weight so that he could straddle Kara’s waist and use his weight to hold her down. Then he took the arrow shaft in his fingers and began to ease it out.
Kara gritted her teeth and held herself as still as possible, but she still struggled as the shaft was slowly worked out of the bloody hole in her shoulder.
“Got it!” the thin man cried triumphantly, holding up the dripping arrowhead.
“All of it?” the bandit chief asked.
The thin man nodded.
“Good. Stitch her and do whatever else is necessary. We’re moving out of here tomorrow.”
“I’ll just bandage the wound for now,” the thin man said. “It might require some cleaning, but it is bleeding freely now and that should help carry out any poisons.”
“Just so long as she doesn’t bleed to death. I’ll looking forward to lying between those sweet thighs and I want her alive.”
“As you wish, Pern,” the thin man replied, using the bandit chief’s name for the first time.
“Just see that you do it,” Pern replied. He got up and walked away.
As soon as he was gone, the thin man cradled Kara’s right breast. “Pern thinks he is going to be the first to enjoy you, but I have other plans. I will know before him when you are ready.” He squeezed her breast. “The danger of cheating him will make taking you that much more enjoyable.”
Kara went limp. She was completely exhausted and in a great deal of pain. In addition, she was threatened with rape as soon as she was well enough to survive the ordeal. She closed her eyes as a feeling of complete helplessness swept over her. It seemed she went from one hideous ordeal to another. Would her trials never end?