Yezman, Child of Muralia Book II
Anticipated release Summer 2013!
Chapter 1: Abduction
Senna ducked back down between the rolls of standing mats, her heart pounding. Tarsi, her tiny monsaki, stared with enormous eyes and whimpered in the hollow of her neck were he maintained his tenuous grasp. He sensed the danger they were in and shivered uncontrollably. The girl stroked the fur standing up along his neck and back as she peered into the storage room.
The rays of Lord Shamar’s light filtered through the dirty glass of the windows lining the top of the western walls creating shadows in the deep recesses where the light didn’t shine. The tang of salt air from the wharf mixed with the dust from the stores inside the warehouse, reminding Senna of the games she used to play with her older brother Muradit when they were children. She would hide among the shipments and he would seek her as their father negotiated with the guild leaders.
Not even her eldest brother Myknet could find her if she’d put her mind to it, a fact which often ended with her father’s ire. How often had he told her that her place was with the ladies of the guild and not snooping about like one of his agents. Well, he’ll be grateful to me for spying this time; especially if these men prove to be connected to the string of thefts my father’s guild has been blamed for.
Thin rolls of woven reeds were all that hid the girl and her tiny pet from the rough-looking men tearing through the crates of merchandise in the Mage’s Guild warehouse. The various crates bore their symbols of origin as well as picture representation of their contents. Shipments from all corners of Muralia were stored in warehouses like this until they were ready to be loaded onto ships headed south to Mitdayin or up to Tamona.
Senna knew she shouldn’t have followed the ruffians into the deserted building, but every fiber of her being knew that they were part of the group responsible for all her father’s recent trouble. If she could figure out who they were and what their agenda was before they found her, she could report it to her father and maybe, just maybe, earn her way back into his good graces.
As the sinister group rifled wantonly through the crates, scattering their contents across the dirty floor, Senna realized that they were looking for something specific and not just stealing from the Merchant’s Guild’s stores. The girl carefully pulled two of the rolled mats apart to see if she could figure out which crates they were targeting. She swept her dark hair away from her eyes and tucked it back behind one ear for a clearer view. Tarsi blinked in the sudden light and scratched his way around her hair and onto her back where he continued to shiver. Senna stroked his head gently but dared not whisper any words of comfort.
As she watched the men, she felt Tarsi’s tiny claws dig into her skin as the fist-sized primate clambered around to the front of her blouse. The fur from his pointed ears tickled her chin as the creature stared out at the men with his saucer-like eyes. Senna stroked the trembling beast, crooning softly to keep it from screeching in fear. She slowly extracted his needle-sharp claws from around her neck and placed him back into the pouch she kept at her side, trying to keep her movements unobtrusive.
Harsh, angry sounds came from the men breaking through crates just beyond her hiding place. Cocking her head to one side, she tried to catch the words that the bearded man had begun grunting as he threw aside another empty crate.
“Curse that old fool,” he snarled as he threw the lid to another crate aside. “Oy, he said the shipment from Raveen, right?” the man yelled at someone across the warehouse.
Senna peered out the screen of mats at what appeared to be the leader of the group. The man nodded his head in response to the bearded man’s question. This man stood supervising the others, fingering a strange knotted amulet with a ruby center stone that hung around his neck. What would they be looking for from Raveen? That’s the Temple to Orwaena…what would the priestesses be sending to the Merchant’s Guild?
The slender girl hunched back down to think. Nothing came to mind, but then she’d never had the opportunity to travel to Raveen to see all the wonders of the warrior goddess’s temple. She was about to peek back out at the men when she heard a scraping sound behind her.
Senna froze. Cautiously, she eased herself down further into the mats and tried to turn around without causing them to move and giving away her position. She turned her head just in time to see the sparkle of Lord Shamar’s light in the burnished titian curls of her rival Cybelle as the foolish girl tiptoed past her.
“What are you doing here?” Senna hissed.
Cybelle stopped. She turned and frowned daintily, placing her hands on her tiny waist. “I’m following you, of course. I knew you wouldn’t go straight home like you were supposed to.”
Senna’s arm snaked out from the mats and her hand clamped over Cybelle’s mouth as she slid from out of the stand of mats.
“Shut up or you’ll get us both killed!” Senna whispered savagely.
Senna pulled Cybelle down and crouched with her behind the stands of mats. She inched slowly around the side to see if the men had heard their exchange. The bearded man was moving closer. Senna held her breath and put her finger to her lips. Cybelle’s eyes were wide and she nodded slowly.
Don’t move! Senna mouthed to Cybelle who shook her head and shrunk down behind the mats.
The bearded man had isolated another crate just to the right of their position. He’d called over the leader to examine it. Carefully, Senna crawled forward on her hands and knees, slithering between the large, clay jars of oil from Yezmarantha and the large stand of woven mats. She peered around the edge of the largest jar and pulled back quickly. Her nose had nearly collided with the back hem of the leader’s cloak as the man brushed past her hiding space.
With her heart pounding in her throat threatening to cut off her air, Senna shrank back against the jar and tried to calm the panic shooting through her body and causing her fingers to tingle. If they found her, they would probably kill her, or worse, appeal to her father for ransom. If he learned she’d put herself in danger by spying again, his rage would be worse than any torture these ruffians could dish out. They were speaking again. Senna held her breath and strained to catch their words.
“Yes, the one marked Raveen,” the leader nodded and clapped the bearded man on the shoulder. “Take this one and a few other crates back to the boat, quietly.”
“How about this one?” a rogue with a dark, gravelly voice asked. “It’s full of coins and would be easier to dispose of.”
The leader fingered his amulet and laughed roughly. “Why not? Groschen is just a fictitious name for the Thieves’ Guild. They’ve always been known to liberate merchants of their treasures.”
Rough laughter broke out and Senna stiffened. Not only were these men thieves, but they were framing her father’s guild for the theft. She heard the crates being shifted and loaded onto a cart. Hazarding to peek around the jar, Senna noticed a burly seaman with an odd knotted symbol tattooed on his arm scowling as he replaced a large crate just the other side of the oil jars. She ducked back quickly to avoid his glance.
So they’re stealing from the Mage’s Guild and framing the Groschen…but who are they? I’ll have to follow them and find out which ship they load the crates onto. Senna eased herself to a standing position and prepared to follow the thieves to their boat when she heard a stifled scream.
Senna watched in horror as one of the ruffians pulled a terrified Cybelle from behind the crates near the back door. The frightened girl had tried to sneak back out of the warehouse and had been spotted by the exiting crew. The burly seaman had her arm twisted behind her back and his other hand over her mouth to prevent her from crying out as he forced her toward the larger group.
“I found her trying to sneak out the back door,” the man growled, pulling Cybelle’s arm up higher causing her to whimper in pain.
The leader strode over to the shaking girl and looked her up and down carefully. “Looks to me like we’ve found a spy…or a hostage. Either way, bring her along.”
Cybelle tried to scream as the burly man with the knot tattoo hauled her toward the cart. She struggled and kicked him as hard as her soft slippers would allow, but only managed to bruise her tender feet.
“Be careful little one, I almost felt that,” the man laughed gruffly, adding insult to the injury.
“If she is going to be troublesome,” the leader sighed, “then bind her and carry her over your shoulder.”
The tattooed man kept his grip on Cybelle’s arm, but released her mouth to grab the twine being held out to him by another crewmate.
“Senna help!” the distraught girl screamed before being backhanded by the large man.
Cybelle’s head snapped back and she fell into a lifeless heap, but the damage had been done.
“There’s another one around here somewhere,” the leader shouted angrily. “Find her and bring her to me!”
Instantly, the languid pace of the ruffians became frantic with activity. Senna was reminded of the time she and Muradit had dumped poison into the center of a nest of crawlers, watching in fascination as the entire nest had gone into high gear to avoid the toxin. She was grateful for her boyish frame now as she inched away from the jars and again squeezed tightly between the rolled mats, finding temporary refuge in the stand. One of the mats had come loose from its binding, so she slowly pulled the loose end around in front of her, providing a screen from the men. She could hear the thieves searching the entire warehouse and felt the passage of one as he ran down the aisle next to where she was hiding.
On the opposite side of the mats, Senna could hear Cybelle coming around. The girl groaned and sat up groggily. Senna peeked through the loose weave of her screen but could only see the edge of Cybelle’s dress and her feet. She fervently hoped the dimwitted beauty would keep her mouth shut and not expose her further. Senna’s heart sank when the leader realized Cybelle had recovered and grabbed her roughly by the arm, jerking her to her feet.
“Who was with you? Where is she?” he demanded angrily, shaking the disoriented girl.
“S-S-Senna,” Cybelle whispered fearfully, her eyes wide with terror.
“What were you two doing in here?” he asked, shaking her harder.
“I f-f-followed her h-h-here,” she stammered.
The leader frowned at the comment and narrowed his eyes menacingly. “And what was she doing here?”
Senna watched as Cybelle gulped. Come on, lie! Senna gritted her teeth. If Cybelle was anything, she was duplicitous, but Senna knew that her rival didn’t have the internal fortitude to handle anything more dangerous than three boys vying for her hand at the festival. She was petty and spiteful, but mainly the lovely girl was soft and spoilt.
“F-f-following you,” she whispered, barely audible.
Senna closed her eyes, her heart sinking. If I get out of this, I’m going to beat that girl within an inch of her life. For years, Senna’s father and grandmother had harped on the errant girl to behave more like Cybelle, but Senna didn’t have the patience for simpering and primping. She wanted to become one of her father’s spies, but she was always chastised for her unseemly goals. At least I don’t fall apart under stress.
The leader fidgeted with his amulet. He looked around the warehouse at his men searching for the other girl and nodded once. Letting out a piercing whistle, he called all the men back to his position.
“We’ve been compromised,” he began grimly, looking at his men with significance. “Leave some Groschen coins and whatever other evidence you have of their involvement, then torch the warehouse.”
Senna inhaled sharply. No, not flame! Not again! Cold beads of sweat broke out along Senna’s hairline as the memories of nearly being burned alive danced like flame across her vision. Her hands gripped the strap of her pouch until her knuckles turned white as the terrified girl warred with her natural instinct to flee. Tarsi nosed out of the pouch and butted her hand with his head. She glanced down at his luminous eyes and scratched the top of his head. Senna took a deep breath and slowly let it out, trying to calm her panicked mind. You can do this, just wait them out. You’ve survived before…
Acknowledging the order, the men moved out. One held back a moment.
“What about the other girl?” he asked gruffly.
“Keep watch. Either the smoke will bring her out or she’ll die in the blaze,” the leader said simply.
The leader motioned for the tattooed man to grab Cybelle and the others to pick up their crates. Senna watched with her heart pounding as the big man threw the girl over his shoulder, then turned and opened the dockside doors with one hand. Rows of ships lined the docks along the waterfront, but Senna had no clue which one Cybelle was being taken to. Several crates were being hauled by other men while the last three set the warehouse on fire with the torches. Two remained behind to watch for the girl’s accomplice to see if she tried to escape her fiery death. They wouldn’t have to wait long.
Senna realized her danger as soon as the leader gave the order to burn the warehouse. The jars of Yezman oil sitting on the shelf next to her would explode in the blaze. She was surrounded by woven mats and carpets that would burn rapidly once the fire touched them. She needed to escape, but she also knew that she’d be running right into their trap. Maybe Tarsi can get a message to my father.
She opened her pouch to check on the little monsaki and found him curled in the tiniest ball in the corner of the pouch, trembling with fear. He must have felt her tension, for certainly he didn’t understand the words. Senna tried to coax him out, but he scurried onto her shoulder and clung to her dark hair with a death grip. He wasn’t going anywhere. She had a decision to make: burn to death or simply delay her inevitable demise at the hands of the villains waiting for her on the dock.
Pondering her options for another moment, Senna heard the crackling of the flames as they raced across the floor on top of the oil from the overturned jars and approached her hiding place. I’m running out of time! If I don’t go now, I’ll end up just like…No, I can’t think like that. The smell of burning wood and cloth was acrid and scorched her nostrils. She put her arm up over her face to breathe through the fabric of her blouse, but it wouldn’t help her for very long. Soon she began coughing and choking on the fumes surrounding her. Tarsi trembled even tighter, burrowing into the hair on her neck. She realized that the smoke would kill her little friend quicker than it would her. I have to get out of here!
Senna peeked around the rolls of mats that she was hidden behind and saw that nearly the entire building was engulfed in flames. None of the men were in evidence, but she knew that there would be at least two waiting outside for her to run to safety. She had no choice if she wanted to live. Squeezing through the tightly woven mats, Senna pulled her skirt up over her head, grateful in this moment that she’d had trousers on beneath. Using the skirt as protection from the smoke and flames, she bolted through the open doorway to the dock and straight into the arms of the men waiting for her.
“Here’s the second little spy,” the man grinned, his foul breath causing her to gag.
“Not much to look at,” said the other one grabbing her arms to keep Senna from struggling too hard.
“Well, another few days on board the ship and nobody will be too picky about looks anyway,” the first man leered, brushing his whiskers against her cheek and sniffing. “She’ll do in a pinch; at least she’s clean.”
The two burly men shouldered their respective burdens; one grabbed Senna while the other hefted a trunk, then both set off at a quick pace to their ship. Senna looked up from her undignified position over the man’s shoulder and watched helplessly as the flames rose higher and higher up the walls of the warehouse. She hadn’t been able to gather up any of the Groschen coins and knew that her father would be blamed for the blaze.
Anger flared in her at the unfairness of this set up and she was determined to learn who these evil men were and why they were framing the Groschen. If she could get away from these ruffians with such valuable information, perhaps then her father would accede to her wish to work for him in a more formal capacity rather than just be shunted off to the highest marital bidder when she came of age. Not that anyone would have me.
Senna’s lips twisted into a bitter smile. Her strange yellow eyes weren’t the only traits she’d inherited from her Mekkan grandmother. Half-breeds weren’t appreciated in Askari society, particularly those without the decency to recognize their subservience. Woe to the poor man who thinks he’ll be able to control me…provided I survive this night.
Senna kept her eyes open and observed as much as she could see during their short jog to the ship. She noticed that the ship she was being hauled onto flew a flag of Tamona, so perhaps they would be sailing north. She could feel Tarsi’s claws digging into her neck and felt a trickle of moisture making its way down her neck. The poor little beast was terrified. She hummed softly to him to calm him down, hoping that her captor wouldn’t hear her or notice the tiny stream dripping onto his back.
As the two men climbed up the gangplank and onto the decrepit schooner that was anchored at the end of the wharf, the claxon of the fire bell could be heard in the distance. Senna knew that any screams or the crack of the sails being lowered wouldn’t be audible above the panic to save the warehouse and keep the fire from spreading to the other buildings along the wharf. With a lump in her throat and tears threatening to fall down her cheeks, she watched the flames rise higher, challenging Lord Shamar’s descent for the more brilliant display of oranges and reds in the evening sky.
“Good, you found the other one,” the leader nodded to the man who bore her as he reached the top of the gangplank. “Take her below and put her with the first one. I’ll decide what to do with them later.”
The man nodded wordlessly and shoved his way through the men who were readying the ship for departure. Senna’s captor tossed her roughly to the floor inside a cabin. Cybelle lay collapsed on the tiny bunk and was sobbing quietly.
“There, now you two stay here quiet like or you’ll have trouble,” the burly seaman admonished them before locking the door behind him.
Senna looked around for any means of escape, but noted only the locked door and tiny porthole as potential exits. The porthole was too small even for her slight frame and no way would it accommodate Cybelle’s robust curves. She pulled Tarsi down from her neck and began untangling him from the nest of hair he’d created. Senna glanced over at Cybelle and decided that no help would come from that quarter.
The air in the room was stale with an undertone of unwashed body and unwashed clothing, indicating that the prior occupants subscribed neither to a regular hygiene regimen or opening the window for fresh air. Senna scanned the room and decided that it must have belonged to crew members. There were double bunks chained to the opposite wall where they could be folded up when not in use, a wardrobe, a wash basin and a tiny closet that served as a toilette.
The cabin was sparsely furnished with a table and chair and a shelf with a few books. At least we weren’t thrown into the bowels of the ship. I’m not sure what these men intend to do with us, but at least we’re being treated more like guests than prisoners.
Standing on the chair, Senna could see out the porthole toward the deck of the ship and the wharf beyond. The troops of the Harmolin Legion were scrambling back on the docks to put out the fire in the warehouse. Nobody seemed to notice the ship bearing the Tamonan flag preparing to leave the harbor. Senna could see the deck hands coiling up the ropes and hear the shouts of the mates to the oarsmen below.
Slowly, the ship began to maneuver its way out of its berth and into the quiet bay. There didn’t appear to be much wind, so they would be dependent upon the oarsmen to row the ship from the enormous bay and out to sea. Senna hoped that their movement would capture the attention of the legionnaires fighting the fire along the waterfront. In the fading light of the day, the lone ship moved further out into the bay with no sign of pursuit. Senna’s heart sank as she realized that she and Cybelle were at the mercy of their captors at least until they reached the next port.