Chapter 2

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Chapter 2

Zev awoke to a burning thirst. Pain lanced through his head, chest, and arm, pulsing in time to his heartbeat. Fragmented images stuttered through his mind. He'd been on the salaal pitch, the hard-packed sand hot and bright beneath him. His horse had stumbled into a hole, screaming as its foreleg bone snapped. Zev cursed as he tumbled from the panicked animal, slamming into the ground. Maresh barreled toward him on his stallion, white foam coating the horse's brown hide, the Abul's son roaring a inchoate challenge. Curling into a ball, Zev wrapped his arms over his head and cried out as horse and rider struck him.

"Don't move. You have been seriously injured."

The words ran together in the slippery way of Rimlish speech.

He blinked and the memory of the accident on the salaal pitch slipped away, back to its rightful place in his childhood. He was in Rimland. What was he doing in Rimland?

"I'm sorry. This will likely hurt."

A woman's voice rang in the room, a strange mingling of kind words and angry tone. He couldn't think past the pounding in his head, the buzzing in his ears, and the burning flares in his right arm, across his chest, and deep inside his belly. 

Gentle hands probed his head and he cried out, the sound impossibly like the scream of the doomed horse in his memory. He gritted his teeth and forced himself to silence. He would endure no matter what torture they visited upon him. Divine as his witness, he would endure.

The woman drew her breath in sharply and stroked along the skin of his face in the manner of a lover. He responded with a young boy's vigor, his manhood rising, unbidden. Shame and confusion and desire warred within. A memory burned through him: a stolen glimpse of a disrobed servant in the bathing room when he'd still been a child. The whipping his father had given him had been mercifully brief, though at the time it seemed enough.

Divine, deliver him from this temptation.

Zev took a deep breath and welcomed the sudden stabbing in his flank. It cleared his mind and broke the spell of desire this woman had woven. He forced open his eyes, squinting at the terrible brightness. It could be borne. It was no more than the glare of morning sun on the white sands of the ring of fire. It must be borne.

His eyes pulled the room into focus: Stone walls, a single window set high up, near the ceiling, sunlight pouring through. Day, then and he was in a cell. How had he gotten here? A shadow eclipsed the light and he blinked. A woman whose skin glowed with the pale sheen of starlight stood by Zev's side, running her soft hands across his chest.

He moaned. She winced, but did not remove her touch and he had no strength to resist or pull away. Part of him knew The Divine forgave such trespasses, but it didn’t matter.  That the woman had a strange beauty only increased the guilt. Her hair was the color of dried straw and her eyes the green of an oasis palm. She was young, younger than his closest sister.  He relaxed into her touch even as he knew it was wrong.

"I'm going to give you some water. Keep your head still."

He'd pay the Abul's own ransom for water. The woman dipped a clean cloth in a cup and brought it over to his mouth. A few drops hit his dry lips. He shivered in anticipation. She pressed the edge of the cloth in his mouth and he sucked the moisture from it as eagerly as a newborn foal nursing from his dam's teat.

The cloth withdrew. He tried to grab for it, but she was too quick. Only his left arm obeyed. His right arm lay unresponsive at his side, captured by a strange and distant heaviness. Zev tried to speak, but his throat was too dry for anything but a croaking moan.

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