Chapter 9

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 Rajhani lay on the bed, arms tied together at the wrists, ankles crossed and bound. A rag tied around the lower half of her face kept her from speaking. The room was dark, empty except for the ornate bed she lay on, and a small stool and table to her right. The bed frame was hand carved with four high-reaching pillars, with scenes carved into each of them. Women with bellies swollen with pregnancy, new life spilling into the world. Men with axes buried in their chests. Stalks of corn and slaughtered cattle. Reproduction, war, and food. The foundation of Ceasixus life.

The marriage ceremony had been short. Dragged into the main hall by Cyran, Rajhani had been forced at knifepoint to agree to be his wife. She was told to obey, to clean, cook, and give herself to her husband anytime he asked. She was responsible for producing male heirs. She was a Ceasixus bride. Terrified that Cyran would use the knife he held to her chest, she nodded and was dragged away again by her new husband, the collected audience laughing and hollering as they threw pebbles and wine into the aisle she was dragged down. Splashes of red stained the gown she had been shoved into by a group of women. The pebbles stung as they bounced off her skin. As she stumbled down the aisle, the beginnings of bruises on her small biceps, she heard the cries of the villagers.

"Red for life!" they yelled.

Cyran looked at her, a smile on his face as though all was well and he had not just been holding a knife to her. "Come on, Ra. It's part of the celebration. Life means heirs. Don't pull away. It'll wash off later."

"Stones for strength!"

Rajhani saw the guests turning and throwing pebbles at each other. They seemed proud to be able to take the sting without any reaction. The warrior's way, she thought to herself as she attempted to shield herself from the pain of the small stones that came her way.

Back in the marriage chamber, Cyran had bound her arms and legs and left her on the bed, stepping out of the room into the sunlight and leaving her alone. So he could keep her safe, he told her. Two hours passed.

She started as the door was thrown open. The light from outside blinded her. When the door fell shut, she saw her husband.

Cyran stood in front of the door, looking down at her. Walking over to the side of the bed, he sat down on the stool and leaned forward, placing a hand on her cheek. He smelled of wine and dirt. Rajhani tried to pull her head back but couldn't move. She felt grime from his hand rubbing off on her cheek.

"Why do you pull away from me, Ra? We could have done this differently if you would have just come with me."

Rajhani looked up at Cyran.

"Why do you look scared, Ra? You know I'd never hurt you. The Iyhiri Elders could have married us. They would have, too, even though you aren't fourteen yet." Cyran paused. "I'm going to pull the rag away from your face, okay?"

Rajhani nodded.

Cyran stood up, leaned over her and untied the rag, lifting her head to fit both hands behind it. With the rag gone, Rajhani let her head fall back and moved her jaw back and forth, trying to get feeling back in her face.

"Cyran," she asked, "why?" And she began to cry.

"It was the only way. I had to bring you home."

"Home?" she cried. "This isn't home, it's the Ceasixus Realm. They're murderers. They killed my father. Let me go, Cyran. Let me go home. Please." Rajhani's body shook as she cried. "Just let me go home."

Cyran leaned back and sat on the stool again. Ignoring Rajhani's plea, he said, "I found my father. A few years ago. Got caught out in a storm. I crossed paths with a few Ceasixus men and they beat me pretty bad. Hauled me back here to Llyr."

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