So busy week for me! Lots of writing completed and some meaty revision to the early chapters! But I didn’t forget about you guys. Here’s a short story to when your appetites.
“Ok. Last warning. Let me go, now.” Yi squirmed against the ropes that bound her. The stench of the cave was making her nose and eyes burn.
“Not happening,” One of the men said, the one she called Bao. His bald head reminded him of a dumpling. “Now that we know what you’re worth you’re not going anywhere.”
She groaned. Playing the threat card against a band of unwashed bandits wasn’t exactly her greatest idea. They had the nerve to sit her on the dismantled pile that used to be her carriage. It was decidedly more comfortable when it was in one piece.
The morons should have recognized the royal crest on the side of the carriage. That alone should have earned her fair treatment rather than a scrap of meat. Worse they had killed her guards and carriage man and left him to rot at the roadside.
“Do you think for a moment that you will get away with this?” Yi said, “You are all hunted men now. If you lay down your weapons I will have you granted swift and merciful deaths.”
The men collectively rolled their eyes and continued their game of cards. They had found the multiple decks amongst her things and soiled them with their grubby fingers. The nerve.
“Would her majesty kindly stuff a sock in it? We’re trying to play a game.” A blonde haired foreigner said, she referred to him as Gaijin. He was wearing pants of an odd material and a fine vest made of animal skins.
“Shouldn’t you be planning out your last will and testament? Or perhaps considering what the last thing you plan to do in the remainder of your pathetically short lives?” Yi narrowed her eyes. “You will all die for this.”
“We know,” a man missing his front right tooth said, she called him Snago. Other than the dental imperfection he was somewhat handsome, and wore his hair long and let it frame his face. “Why do you think we’re playing a game? We’re sorting out who gets to enjoy you when.”
Yi’s eyes widened
The five men all laughed.
“Just joshin’ ya princess.” Another man said, he was wearing a cloth mask that covered his features. It did nothing to hide deep scars all over his face. She she simply called him Scaa. He was the biggest man she ever seen, and his skin was impossibly dark. “Yer too skinny for any grown up fun, we’ll be usin’ the Ryo we get for turnin’ ya in to buy us some real women.”
Yi fumed, “I’m not a child. I’m a woman of twenty.”
“Skinny’s skinny girly.” A man stepped away from the wall and approached her. He had a half spent cigarette dangling from his lip. He wore the traditional fighting robes of their country’s swords-men; it was dirty and had the stench of sweat about it.
He was an older man, and handsome. His hair was pulled into a neat topknot and had an undeniably regal air to him. He leaned in close. He had alcohol and the stink of herb on his breath. “You may be thanking the gods that you were born plain girl.”
Yi scowled. Any amount of admiration for his looks evaporated with that sentence.
“You’re dense girl. You think we would be so stupid as to kidnap the emperor’s granddaughter? We saved your life…” He took a drag of his cigarette. “You were on your way to a slaver’s den. The truth is all around you. Look.”
Yi turned her gaze to the men playing cards. They were making expert plays of the complicated game. She herself had been trained to play the game of war, but she was never very good at it. It was a heavily layered game with forty different types of cards and needed three decks worth of cards for two players. When three players were involved it needed five. When there were four players, it took eight.
The men had effortlessly set up an eight deck game and played their moves without hesitation. These were soldiers, royal soldiers.
Yi narrowed her eyes at the man in front of her. “Then why the act? I will have your heads for treating me so poorly!”
“We’re under orders.” He said with a frown. “We’re supposed to kill you.”
Yi’s large brown eyes soaked in his words and shook her head. “A Traitor?!”
“Unless you say the emperor is one. No. They are direct orders from him.” He put out the cigarette in his palm and tucked it into his robe. The stench of the cigarette’s dying smoke made it clear it was a potent herb, marijuana, exported from the island to the southwest.
“Don’t worry,” he said, “As long as you cooperate, we won’t be following orders.”
Vedo. This one is Vedo.
“Look, Vedo, if you mean me no harm. You will let me go now. I refuse to believe my honored Grandfather planned to have me killed. I am not even the heir to the throne.”
Everyone in the room fell silent. Scaa glanced over and peeled up his mask of cloth to slip a bit of hard biscuit in his mouth. The crunch echoed through the silent room.
“Someone isn’t up to date on current imperial happenings…” Vedo rubbed his chin. “Your eldest sister, princess Heiji is dead.”
“W…what?” She lunged forward and strained against her bonds. “Impossible. She was given the divine blessing. She is immortal already.”
“No. She’s not. She’s a pretty little corpse,” Vedo said, “I’m sorry, for what it’s worth.”
Yi’s eyes fell to the floor. She had once wished ill on Heiji, she wanted to be the exalted queen. That was until she realized how perfect she was for the job. She was intelligent, beautiful, and loved by all. If grandfather had killed her… it meant he had thrown the nation into chaos intentionally
“And he wants me dead too… if Heiji wasn’t good enough for him… Then…”
“None of that.” Vedo slapped her, hard. “You are the rightful queen.”
Her cheek stung. Vedo was strong. The slap was weak for him, but it made her head swim. There was no rage in her heart though. It seemed as though Vedo has only slapped the sorrow from her thoughts. The only things she could think of was how wonderful Heiji was and what made her wonderful. Something in that moment clicked and that seemed so obtainable.
Yi lifted her head and bit her lip. Tears welled in her eyes and her cheek throbbed, but she did not let them fall. “I understand.”
“Good.” Vedo lowered his hand and let it sit on his belt. “Shall we set you loose then? Your hands must hurt.”
“No. Leave me tied,” she said quietly, “If what you say is true… you must maintain that I am but a simple prize. I assume we go east, to my uncle’s land.”
“You’re a fool then.” Yi narrowed her eyes.
The room fell silent save for Scaa’s chewing.
“It would be a trap. We must head south,” she said, “Right into the jaws of the Tiger.”
Vedo let out a low whistle and Bao stood from his game of cards, sending them scattering. “You’re the fool! The scent of war still lingers–”
“That is exactly why we must go there,” Yi said, “No one will expect it.”
“She be right ya know,” Scaa said firmly.
“Damn it.” Bao fell into a cross-legged sit. “What’s the point of pay if we can’t spend it.”
“You lose game.” Scaa pointed at the cards. “You messin’ up the cards.”
“Piss of ‘Scaa’.”
Scaa shrugged and ate another cracker.
“So it’s settled. Our little prisoner has been so kind as to offer the finest plan. So much for the lot of you being the finest money can buy. Maybe I should give her your cut of the Ryo.”
“Over my dead body.” Gaijin said with a laugh. He said something in a tongue Yi didn’t understand. The masked man laughed.
“You right. She funny.” Scaa grinned showing a row of the whitest teeth she had ever seen, save the bits of biscuit stuck between them. It might have just been the sharp contrast to his midnight colored skin. He must have been a demon.
“We promise we’ll be easy on you.” Vedo reached over and grabbed her by the belt of her fine Kimono. She squealed when he picked her up and grunted when he plopped her on his shoulder.
Snago sighed and started to gather the cards. “Figures. I was winning…”
“Don’t bitch.” Gaijin grinned. “Once I figure out the infernal game you won’t be winning long. Engal honor.”
“Whatever that means. You don’t know the word.” Snago frowned and pointed at a wrapped bundle at the Gaijin’s side. “Try fighting with a real weapon coward.”
“You know I can, and will.” The foreigner grinned. “So we going by her ridiculous nicknames? Or are we leveling with her?”
“It’s better I don’t know them.” Yi said. “For all of us…”
She looked away and frowned. “Besides. This way when I am on the throne, I won’t be tempted to have you all hung.”
Vedo gestured to the caves entrance. “You’re too kind princess. Men. Move. Long day ahead of us…”