“We could…” As soon as the words fell from Gremlaw’s scabbed lips, the single door to the room flew inwards to hammer loudly against the wall making the three women jump. Jocinta raised one hand to her lips in fright as her face drained of all color.
Three Lavashians with their wide, round eyes entered the prison cell led by the sneering face of Zha Quin who’s eyes lit upon Gremlaw with a hungry glare as if he wanted to beat him insensible again.
“Leaving time!” Zha Quin chimed happily as if they were all about to go for a picnic, “Standing to be please.” The two Lavashians who had accompanied Zha Quin crossed to where Gremlaw stood and dragged him towards the door.
“Run!” Gremlaw screamed at the three Haguana women as no one but Zha Quin stood before the open door. Surprisingly, all three women sprinted into action and Jocinta even threw herself at the Lavashian officer, sending him sprawling into the wall outside the door. Gremlaw chuckled as he heard Zha Quin’s head cracked against the stonework. Hid breath exploded from Gremlaw as one of his captors cannoned a fist into his stomach. Zha Quin called out to them in Lavashian,
“Do him no harm! The Emperor wants him alive and unharmed.” He grinned nastily up at Gremlaw while rubbing the back of his head, “To begin with, at least.” He added still unaware Gremlaw could understand his language. “Hunt down the Haguana bitches and slaughter them!” Zha Quin ordered as he regained his feet.
Gremlaw felt his heart sink as he thought of the chances facing the trio of his kinswomen out in the Lavashian wilderness he had been dragged through. Although he had been a prisoner of men of Lavash, he had kept his eyes open, until they had punched and beaten his face so badly he was barely able to open them, yet seen nothing of any substance to live on; not even a decent water supply.
His captors bound his hands before him this time and dragged him outside to be tied to the rear of a wagon which was hitched, in turn to a disheveled looking beast of burden Gremlaw could only identify as some kind of donkey. One of the men took up the reins while his companion climbed into the bed to be accompanied by Zha Quin. The latter watched Gremlaw trot along as the wagon trundled off up the road.
“The Emperor will break him,” Zha Quin told his companion cruelly in Lavashian. The other man nodded silently and Zha Quin fell silent.
It had been just past sunrise when Gremlaw had been lashed to the wagon; midday had come and gone, the harsh sunlight beating down on Gremlaw’s head as he trotted along behind the wagon. There was a difference now, however, as Gremlaw had been allowed small sips of water throughout the day and even given a few mouthfuls of dried fruit as the three Lavashians broke for a brief lunch. He was even allowed, at the end of the day, to ride in the back of the wagon as it descended the gentle slope of a valley. With the final rays of sunlight and lengthening shadows creeping around him, Gremlaw turned to look down the hill towards their destination.
His breath caught at the beauty of the city which lay before them. Towering minarets, clad in gold, with sapphire highlights thrust into the sky and even the buildings between looked to be palatial in construction and decorations. Gremlaw stared in awe as they passed into the city and saw throngs of people milling to and fro engaged in innumerable tasks.
The small and rickety wagon was drawn into the courtyard of a building where a contingent of ten Lavashian men in highly polished armor and midnight blue capes stood to attention. Zha Quin dropped to the cobbled floor and approached them,
“Sir!” He saluted the man at the head of the band, “I have brought the prisoner, as requested.” The officer at the head of the small band allowed his eyes to flick briefly to the face of Zha Quin,
“Requested, Zha Quin?” The man’s voice was like ice cracking as he spoke, “His Most Great and Holy Emperor orders you. Present the Trathlainian!” He snapped. To Gremlaw’s immense gratification, Zha Quin almost cowered before the voice of this man.
The Lavashian who had been in charge of Gremlaw since his capture in Strathnave ordered him to be untied from the wagon and dragged him before the company. The officer assessed Gremlaw’s condition and asked Zha Quin,
“Why is he beaten and worn out?”
“He has been stubborn and attempted to escape several times,” Zha Quin lied, “The language barrier has been a problem also.” He added, still not realizing Gremlaw understood Lavashian perfectly. The officer turned to Gremlaw and spoke in his native tongue,
“This man said you tried to be escaping,” his accent was a great improvement over that of Zha Quin and his lackeys, “Is this a truth?” Keeping his expression neutral, Gremlaw answered,
“Zha Quin and the men in his employ have been abusive and kept me tied at all points on the journey here,” his near perfect Lavashian had the effect he thought as Zha Quin’s face drained of all color, “I had no opportunity to escape.” Gremlaw allowed his voice to drop as he added, “I think he has developed unnatural feelings for me. That would explain the beatings.” Zha Quin gaped like an idiot.