When the ship came to a halt, Ayalah was blindfolded and carried up to the deck. She lay calmly while her feet were untied and then obediently took a few steps when she was prodded.
Apparently, they thought she needed her eyes and hands in order to inflict damage.
The air around her was crisp and breezy, carrying the unmistakable scents of fish and perfume. She wondered if her ship had docked near a brothel of some sort, though she didn’t hear any female voices around her. There was definitely a man behind her—the one prodding her in the back—as well as one in front of her, whose heels she accidentally trod on. She waited a few more steps to try to tell if there were men walking alongside her. There: a cough coming from her right. It was enough.
She struck out simultaneously behind herself and to the right, using her bound hands to jab the man behind her in the stomach and kicking out with her right leg to break the shin of the man next to her. She spun and tripped the man in front of her and then used her body weight coupled with a twist and a shoulder jab to knock over the man who had been walking on her left. The man she’d hit in the gut regained his breath and came barreling over to her; she ducked and slammed her side into his legs, sending him flying, with what she hoped were a couple of seriously damaged kneecaps.
She was breathing in shallow gasps, trying to focus all of her energy on hearing what was going on around her while she couldn’t see. She didn’t really think she could escape an entire crew of men while bound and blindfolded, but if she could hurt a few of them in the attempt and remind them how dangerous she was, it would be worth the effort.
She planted her feet firmly on the deck and waited for the men she’d knocked over to come after her. She’d gotten turned around now and wasn’t sure where they were.
“Behind you!” Greyson shouted.
She stepped to the side quickly and then spun in a high kick just as a rush of air going past her face let her know someone was there. Her foot collided with something soft, and a grunt and a heavy thump told her the man went down. She wasn’t sure, but she thought the fourth man might be coming from behind her, so she raised her arms as high as she could behind herself and spun, hard. Sure enough, they made contact with some part of his body—his throat?—and the man fell heavily to the deck.
By now, shouts were resonating around the ship, and Ayalah could tell that her moments of freedom were coming to an end. She was prepared to continue fighting, but all at once the men around her went silent. Heavy footsteps approached her, along with a clicking noise, and her blindfold was pulled down.
A very old man stood before her, leaning on a cane. He wore a similar outfit as the men on the ship, but his had white-stitched details on top of the reddish-brown fabric, giving him an air of wealth. His skin was darker than most of the men on the ship, much darker even than Ayalah’s, but with a healthy shine that hers lacked. He smiled at her in a friendly way and then asked something of the men around her.
“Crissa,” one of them responded, followed by a series of words and what may have been “Montesteed,” but which sounded more like “Mont-ay-stew.”
The old man asked her a question. She shook her head to indicate that she didn’t understand. He repeated himself.
“He wants to know if you know how to make tea,” Greyson translated.
She didn’t understand why the old man would ask such a thing, but she nodded.
The old man said something else.
“He wants to know if you are good with children.”
She didn’t like the direction this was going—did he intend for her to be a child’s servant?—but she nodded again: after growing up as an orphan in Gavin’s household, she had to be good with children.
The old man spoke once more, made a curious gesture, and then turned and began limping away.
“He says he will buy you. He likes your energy. He understands your curse and will treat you well.”
Her head snapped to the right, where she saw that Greyson was bound and guarded. “What curse?”
“The, er, curse that says that no man may harm you for fear of torture in the afterlife.”
She stared at him, still keenly aware of the men surrounding her who began to close in. “I’ve just been sold as a slave?”
He didn’t respond, but lowered his eyes.