Orange torchlight; the rock and sway of percussive song, the embrace of flute, dulcimer, cymbal, drum. The men watched, enraptured by the winding twist of her hips, the sinuous motion of naked sensuality, following the shimmering gold firelight over bared breasts and long, slender legs. Sadira’s tawny mane fell wild to her shoulders, held back from her face by a headdress of beaten bronze and adorned with great feathers of exotic birds; thin braids, wound with ribbons and small red jewels, fell at different lengths behind her ears. As she slowly spun in place, weaving her arms in seductive rhythm over her head, the light of the fires lighting up her savage curves, the dark lines of the tattoos marking her hips and shoulders—markings of her former allegiance to a fallen clan and fallen master—wound with her, a map of her ignoble heritage, a testament to her alien origins.
The men around her cared little for the marks, however. The foreign beauty, famed as a lover and a soldier to their greatest enemy, now danced for them, enchanting them and pleasing them, impressing them with the sultry talents they might never have expected from one who had been raised in the way of swords and combat. One who knew the woman’s story might have recognized the distant aloofness on her face even as she arched her body, displaying herself for her enemies, the clan of rugged highlanders that had captured her and kept her prisoner so far from her homeland. One who had heard the tales of her might expect the beautiful slave yet harbored a searing fury and distrust in her heart, a plan of rebellion in her mind—that observer might even believe he caught a glimpse of something like the subtlest hint of a sneer across her lips, the defiance of a legend brought low.
Such feelings would only grow more certain when the door to the great hall of the highlanders’ fortress clattered open without warning, admitting a fresh troop of warriors in from the rain and cold, bringing everything within to a sudden stop. Sadira’s sharp gaze flashed immediately towards the sound. For an instant it might have seemed as though a flash of anger, of vicious joy, crossed the lithe creature’s face before it was replaced by something unreadable, as a tall, broad-chested man—the lord of the fortress, the leader of all who dwelled within—entered the room.
The men all rose at the mighty highlander’s entrance, the women turning to face him with bright adoration in their eyes. Sadira, however, stood still as stone, her arms still half-raised in her frozen dance, her shoulders straight and her chin held up with pride, as the lord crossed the floor to her. She finally dropped her hands to her sides as he reached out a hand, tilting her pretty face up to him with one rough knuckle.
She resisted. Shied away from him, bucking his touch. He captured her more roughly, putting his whole palm against her cheek as though he might slap her, forcing her to meet his eyes.
“Sadira,” was all he said, firmly, without humor. His eyes roamed slowly over her naked torso, the silk sarong wrapped around her waist, the slender nudity of her ankles, the left one circled by tiny silver bells.
Several seconds passed in silence. Finally—amazingly—a grin, teasingly wicked, snuck across the woman’s face.
“Husband,” she said, raising her hand to touch his face in return. “How good of you to come home.”
Bannon had been gone for weeks. It was the nature of a marauder, Sadira knew, a requirement that took him across the countryside and even across continents to eliminate the warring factions of his foes. She ought to have known, after all: it had been he who had practically thrown her over his shoulder, carrying her out of the desert like a prize, taking her from the lands of pyramids and temples to the world of rocks and peaks, rivers and pines. As always, when he returned from these crusades it was his first intention to seek her out, and satisfy himself with her, the woman he had taken from the black sorcerer Set, and claimed for his own.
This night was no different. Bannon demanded her, sweeping her out of the great hall amid murmurs and cries of disappointment from the watchers who had called for her to dance. He disappeared with her into the fortresses depths without a word; like a hungry beast, he fell upon her the instant they were alone, gathering her nearly naked body into his arms and ravishing her throat, kissing her, burying his face against her flesh, inhaling the exotic scent of her smooth, beautiful skin.
“Lover,” he muttered against her. “I have gone far too long without you.”
“You could have had me with you,” she reminded him sternly, pressing her hands against his chest to push him away, desperate for a chance to breathe. “You know well enough I can handle a sword just as well as any of your people.”
“I needed someone here to watch the clan, and rally the men if there was an attack,” he rebutted. “Which, happily, I see there was not.”
She opened her mouth to argue more, still stung by his choice to leave her behind, but he silenced her with a hand across her lips.
“Hush,” he commanded her. “I have brought you something.”
“Oh, have you?” she whispered back, raising an eyebrow.
“Oh, yes,” he said. This time, she caught the vicious hint of a grin on his face, a wickedly shared secret that sent a curious flutter up the back of her neck. “And I have another surprise, as well. Something I think you’ll quite enjoy.”
She did not have to wait long. Her highlander led her to their private bedchambers—evidently he had sent word ahead to order the room be prepared. As they entered, Sadira saw a fire had already been lit in the hearth. A collection of white candles was arranged on a tall, narrow table beside it, along with a cask of blood-red wine, winking ruby in the glow of the flames. There were rose petals scattered along the stone floor, and the smell of burning incense native to her homeland floated through the room like a clandestine invitation.
And—best of all—there was a carefully assembled apparatus, a simple stand as rudimentary as a frame for a stable-door, though forged of metal bars and supported on either side to stand freely… and with far more sinister purposes.
It was tall enough for Bannon himself to stand under and not need to stoop. She herself would barely be able to close her fingers around the topmost bar, even if she stood on her toes to do it.
“Master,” she murmured in soft surprise. “When did you have this made for me?”
“I requested it of the blacksmith before I left,” he replied, nearly nipping her ear as he guided her closer, one broad hand pressed against the small of her back. “And there’s no need to call me master, my love.”
“You know I can hardly do otherwise when you threaten me with chains,” she said with a grin.
Bannon shook his head, leaving her side to cross the chamber to the table.
“No chains tonight, my love,” he said, stooping to pick up a leather satchel she had not seen before, hidden behind one of the room’s decorative pillars. From it he withdrew a slithering pile of shimmering, scintillating fabric that caught the light as he held it out to her. As she came forward to take the offering, she caught her breath with delight: it was a fine silk scarf—no, many silk scarves, all dyed different richly-dyed colors. Silver, indigo, black and gold ran through her fingers like rippling waters.
“Lover,” she murmured, burying her face happily against the soft textures. “They are beautiful.”
“I knew you would appreciate them,” Bannon said with a smile.
She carefully examined the delicate lengths one by one, exploring the provocative glimmer of brocade designs, the tasseled ends. They were gloriously reminiscent of her homeland, of the veils the dancers had worn over their faces or draped across their shoulders to twirl and wind in rhythm, sultry and divine.
Bannon let her admire the gifts a little longer before closing his hands over hers.
“Do you trust me, sweet creature?” he murmured with a kiss. Sadira returned the gesture with a knowing, mischievous grin.
“You know the answer to that, master,” she whispered, kissing him back. “I trust you with my life.”
“It has been too long since I last tortured you.”
He was moving her backwards, gently guiding her under the bars of his new device, kissing her cheeks, her brow, her lips. His hands were on her waist now, running musingly up and down her buxom curves. He slipped the scarves out of her hands and seized her by the wrists, lifting them up, over her head.
“Shall I pleasure you, my little slave?” he murmured. Her soft, eager moan was all the answer he needed.
The slither of thin, gauzy silk glided over her flesh, thrilling her as her highlander wound it around her, teasing her with it, the folds of an exotic shroud. He drifted it gently across her skin, letting her relish the texture caressing her, running it over and around her shoulders, up her long, graceful arms. She nuzzled her face in it, each new breath heavy in the expectant silence between them, letting her master guide her under the heavy overhead bar of his new torture stand. Bannon followed the trail of the slinky material with hot, heavy kisses, pressing his mouth to her as though to devour her.
Her left wrist was twisted into a length of the silk; he wound the scarf tightly around her and looped it up into a metal clasp built into the stand’s design.
“Pull,” he commanded, his voice a harsh, raspy whisper in her ear. “Try to break free.”
Sadira obeyed, tugging at the bonds—they held.
Next, her right hand. Bannon looped the second scarf around it, twining it cleverly, kissing up and down her arm as he stretched it to its full length, binding her fully overhead.