Insult to Injury

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~TIEN LYN~

Tien Lyn recognized the attackers by their guttural accent, their dark looks. She had heard and seen their kind once before, a lifetime ago, in the perfectly decorated banquet hall of her childhood home. They came from the Islands of the Laughing Men, same as the late Admiral Thirty Claws.

Like most sailors, the pirates were bad horseman, but their raiding party was so large that it made their skills irrelevant. Chongs' guards, sufficient in number to scare off a few marauding stragglers could not and did not hold out for long against the organized force.

When the raiders smashed down the lower gallery door, Tien Lyn dashed for Xi's bedroom. In her panic, she ran headlong into a wall of sour-smelling human flesh. How one of their attackers had gotten there so fast, she neither knew nor cared. She tried to side-step, and the raider slapped her. It did not look like much of a swing, but it rung her head like a bell, dropping a veil of tears over her eyes.

Blindsided by the unfamiliar humiliation of deliberately inflicted pain, she did not fight back. Instead, she stupidly tried to push past him, like a bird beating against paper window panes.

The invader grabbed her by the hair, then twisted her arm behind her back. He forced her to move in the opposite direction, away from Xi.

She struggled on in vain. Every time she managed to wriggle out the least bit of slack, her captor tightened his vice-like grip.

Choking on terror and tears, Tien Lyn barely recognized the rooms of her house, now filled with broken things and broken people. The smell of smoke, not the tasty one promising food, but an acrid one filled her nostrils. The raiders must have set the village on fire. Her village, her people... She started to keen. The raider yanked her arm, to silence her. It sent pain all the way up into her shoulder. Those cruel gripping fingers would mark her for the rest of her life.

The Modest Lady cut off her hand, after it was touched by a lewd man. The outlandish choice of hacking herself to pieces or being soiled was suddenly hers to make. Tien Lyn remembered the swirling streams of blood on the silk tapestry and was instantly sick. She was of the same stock as the paragons of the Dynasty of Purifying Glory, but perhaps the bloodlines did thin to almost nothing since. Ancestors, I don't want to be mutilated or hurt!

Chong Ho, bloodied and dishevelled, gained on them. He begged her captor to let him pay the ransom.

The raider did not even slow down.

"Do you understand Shen?!" Chong Ho finally screamed, and got a backhanded strike across the mouth for it, staggered and fell behind.

Tien Lyn felt a small surge of relief. If they wanted women, then she will pay the price.

Just let them forget about Xi and Ho, please, let them forget!

They went past the pile of once carefully packed coffers, the raider and her. They were now all split apart, and Ho's things, her things, Xi's toys spilled out. Tien Lyn sobbed. All the preparations they'd made, all the planning they did, all too late...

"The Gracious Lady Tien Lyn!" her captor bellowed and tossed her to the paving stones of her courtyard. The golden leaves did little to cushion her fall. She cried out but stayed put, on the ground. Some three dozen pirates cheered.

"I will pay the price," she vowed to the paving stones in a whisper. "I will."

"Don't damage our prize, Gao! Remember, she goes to the man who brings me her lover's head," the new voice commanded. Tien Lyn caught a glimpse of the woman who decided her fate before her posse lifted her and tied her behind the saddle. They whooped and cheered as if they won a glorious victory, screaming 'Jung Hwa!' and 'Laugh, men, laugh!'

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