A man’s roar of pain startled Lorana. She slid the kettle from the fire. A guard shouted an order to halt. She ran to the gated entrance to the outer courtyard and peered through the frill. A bare-chested man with thorns protruding from his skin staggered inside. White streaks shot from his wand.
Lorana dripped to the ground when a bolt struck the grill. A matron of the hareem screamed and slumped against the wall. A wizard knocked the wand from the man’s hand.
The grill hung open. The man’s screams pulled Lorana to her feet. No one should suffer such pain. She ran to the fallen wizard. One by one she pulled thorns from his back and arms.
Someone grasped her shoulders. Fingers dug into her skin. “What are you doing?”
Despite the pain she continued removing the spines from the fallen man’s skin. “For him to have a chance of survival these must be removed.”
“No one survives such a dose.”
“Let her continue,” Mecador demanded.
The hands on her shoulders loosened. She looked up. “He’ll need much care.”
“Can you save him?” someone asked.
Lorana looked over her shoulder. “I’ve saved five men since my arrival though none bore so many thorns. I will try to heal him.”
Mecador nodded. “I’ve seen this one work. Soon after she arrived she healed me but I bore only two thorns.” He shoved the burly wizard away. “Cregan, tell me what happened.”
“He carried thorns he’d collected in his shirt and helped me. He tripped over a half full one and fell into the tangle.” He kept his head lowered.
Lorana looked at him. A shifting of his eyes made her wonder if he’d lied. She continued removing thorns. Her concern was for the wounded man. His breathing was shallow and she could barely feel his heart.
Mecador touched her head. “If you can save his life, tell me what you need.”
“Some herbs from the storeroom. I don’t know their names but I do the scent and taste. I’ll need water to bathe him. The poison will drain through his skin.”
The chief wizard pulled her to her feet. “Gather what you need. We’ll take him to his suite and return for you.”
Lorana nodded. “I’ll do this.” She lowered her head. Perhaps she would learn more about the ways of these men.
“Cregan, use your wand to maintain Arton’s life. You know the consequences if he dies.”
Loran pulled the last thorn from the man’s shoulder. She rose and backed away. Four men arrived. They rolled Arton onto the cloth attached to wooden poles. The man called Cregan pressed his want against the wounded man’s chest.
Unlike the pale-haired man, the fallen man had hair streaked with the colors of fire. She scurried to the storeroom to father what she would need to treat the fyrethorn poison.
In the large room she selected a large basket. Jar after jar on the shelf containing herbs and spices were searched. She dropped the ones she needed into the carrier and added one of tallow to use as a base for a paste. A small container of cordial and one of poison completed her search of these shelves. She found cloth for dressings and carried the basket to her room.
Before going to the gate she instructed two of the women how to brew the last jug of poison needed to fill the quota for trade. She lifted a mortar and pestle and added them to the basket.
She arrived at the grill and found Mecador waiting. He gestured to the guard. “Carry the basket.” He grasped Lorana’s arm. “Just a warning.”
His deep breath raised a shudder. “Why?”
“Not only does Arton’s life depend on you saving him but also Cregan’s.” he led her to a set of stairs and started up.
“I’ll do my best but only fate rules the outcome.”
“Your life is also at risk.”
Lorana sucked in a breath. Though death was an escape from slavery she had no desire for that end. If dead she couldn’t find a way to destroy the wizards.
They reached the second level of the citadel. His giant strides along the dimly lit corridors forced her to trot or risk having her arm pulled from the socket. He halted abruptly and she nearly fell. The guard hit her with the basket. She winced as pain shot down her leg.
Mecador opened a wooden door and pulled her into a room. A fireplace on the wall next to the entrance to a second room burned cheerfully. A table and two chairs stood against the side wall. Hooks adorned the other wall.
She saw comfort such as she recalled from her home. The chairs bore cushions. An oil lamp on the table waited to be lit. Through the doorway she saw a sleeping chamber. A wardrobe, a massive bed with wooden posts and curtains that could enclose the bed and a table plus a cushioned chair completed the furnishings.
Mecador dragged her into the sleeping chamber. “Three times a day food will be delivered. You may eat what he doesn’t. There is no reason for you to leave these rooms and if you are found in the halls you will be punished.” He pointed to the other room. “The necessary for washing and all other matters is in there.”
Lorana walked to the massive bed. A blanket covered Arton’s lower body. She turned to the older man. “He should be turned to his stomach so I can see the wounds and treat them.”
He snapped his fingers. Cregan appeared immediately. Lorana tensed. Would the burly man be constantly present? Would he prevent her from finding things to aid in her escape?
“Turn him on his stomach,” Mecador commanded.
Cregan pressed close enough to run his hand over her hip. She edged back and nearly collided with the older wizard.
Lorana approached the bed. She glanced over her shoulder and saw the men had left. She placed her supplies on the table where a cluster of colored fyrestones formed an intricate pattern on a leather tray. She returned to the bed and touched the places where the thorns had penetrated the skin. Several retained bits of the tips. She needed a knife.
His blue dragon trousers hung on the edge of the bed. A sheath on the belt produced a knife. She cleaned the edge and point with liquid distilled from pine sap. One by one she cut the skin and removed the foreign matter. She mixed drops of the poison with an equal amount of the cordial. She mixed this with the lard and treated each area where the thorns had pierced his back and arms. She covered his back and arms with cloth and managed to turn him over and tied the ends to keep the material secure.
His labored breathing troubled her. In a large cup of hot water taken from the bathing room she blended a mixture of herbs. After adding some sweetened syrup and a measure of spirits she returned to the bed.
She raised his head with a pillow and spooned the liquid into his mouth. At first she had to massage his throat to encourage swallowing. He managed the last of the dose o his own. Soon his breathing steadied. A sheen of perspiration covered his face and chest.
Lorana filled a basin with water and wiped away the river of perspiration. Her fingers stroked his chest feeling the way the hair swirled. She edged the blanket lower to expose his lower body. As she wiped the cloth over his abdomen she saw his male organ grow longer and thicker.
Her face heated. Her breasts felt heave and he nipples peaked. A tendril of heat flowed toward her private places. As quickly as possible she washed sweat from his legs and pulled the covers over his body.
She retreated and slumped in the chair. Why was heat cascading through her? She didn’t understand what caused these sensations. She leaned back and closed her eyes.
*Escape. Come to me.*
Her eyes flew open. Had she heard a dragon’s voice? How could that be? Many, many years ago the wizards had killed the dragons of this land. All but the ones who had fled over the mountains had died beneath the power of the wizard’s wands. These evil men used dragon skins to make their clothes.
Arton moaned. Lorana returned to the bedside. She made another brew of herbs and encouraged him to drink. One thing she knew. If he survived the massive dose of thorn poison he would be immune.
She brushed damp hair from his forehead. On an impulse she bent and kissed his forehead, just like she remembered her mother had done when she was young. Her hands tightened. Being drawn to him frightened her. He was one of the enemy.
Lorana returned to the chair and dozed. Sounds from the other room startled her/ She cowered and pressed further into the chair. Until the sounds ceased she barely breathed. Cautiously she crept to the door and saw a feast had been placed on the table.
She shredded meat and minced vegetables to add to the bowl of broth. She cut pieces of fruit into small bites. She fed Arton all the broth and most of the fruit. When he slept she went to the outer room and ate most of what remained. She hid the hard rind fruit on the bottom of the basket beneath the cloth tunic and trousers she found in a corner of his wardrobe.
That night and all of the next day she dosed and roused, dosed, bathed and fed Arton. Each tie he drank the potion and sweated he became more responsive.
On the third day he sat propped by pillows and fed himself. The door opened. Lorana went to see who had entered knowing this wasn’t the time meals were delivered.
Cregan stood with his arms crossed. “Mecador wants to know if Arton has improved. In six days he must be ready to leave for the clan gathering. He will face a challenge there.” He cupped her face with his fleshy hands. “He will lose and after one more contest you will be mine.” He crushed her lips with his in a brutal kiss. He wheeled and marched from the room.
Lorana stared at the door. She wiped her mouth on the sleeve of her dress. In six days or less she would return to the hareem and plan her escape.