“But?” he bellowed. “You dare offer terms after your dishonorable behavior?”
They both turned at the sound of a forceful rap on the chamber doors.
“Mi’Lord?” the voice was muffled through the thick door. “Do you require assistance?”
The man closed his eyes, and waited a moment to steady his voice. “I do not require your presence. Maintain your position.”
He turned to Nala. “Speak!” he demanded.
The panic that so consumed her was abated by his quick marshalling of his wits. “My hands, Mi’Lord,” Nala said, the man had to strain to hear her.
The man released Nala’s wrists. She collapsed to the wooden floor and commanded herself not to look to the dagger a few feet away. She sat upon the floor, the man’s intense honey-colored eyes bored holes into her facade. She rubbed new bruises that formed on her wrists.
“Explain yourself,” he ordered, his voice bore the same even tone as he did in the market.
“Explain what, Mi’Lord?” Nala gambled that deference was the only way to live through the next few minutes.
His face exhibited a scowl, impatience flashed across his features. “Why did you attempt to assassinate me?”
Nala gathered her thoughts and instead of answering him directly, she posed her own question. “Are you the Champion Standing?”
The man blinked and tilted his head to one side as if he contemplated his answer. He remained silent for a few terse seconds before a single word reply: “Yes.”
Nala let out a breath she didn’t know she had held. He has not slain me yet, she thought, perhaps I may live a little longer. Additional thoughts careened around her mind: Why had I thought he was any different? The prospect of a decent man in a world of filth had softened her disdain for humanity. He disguises himself as a sheep, but he is a wolf. She returned to her default views of society. He is no different than the noble I accosted, or the taskmaster who peddled our flesh. This man was no savior. He is as corrupt as any other bastard in this hell of hells.
A renewed hatred surged through Nala. Years of abuse doled upon her and her sister, had compounded into a hard shell. It protected them as a shell protected the mighty tortoise. Indignities hadn’t affected her the way they had Hazina. She had been a fountain of strength for her and her sister, but the niceties she experienced as of late had skewed her shell. Soft spots had formed and her soft flesh had been exposed.
Nala’s eyes snapped open and she returned the Champion Standing’s intense gaze. “You have you answer, Mi’Lord.” She heaped as much scorn and derision on the honorific as she could.
Glowering visages fed on each other – like layers upon layers of voices gathering in song. But this was a song not of praise, or of jubilance, or even the drunken cacophony of one drink too many, this was a song of frazzled nerves, insolence and war. A war that Nala was determined to not lose.
The man’s face morphed first to blatant anger, then to sadness, and finally to confusion. “What do you mean?”
“The market,” she replied through clenched teeth. “You did not rescue me. You only changed my hell.” Nala’s voice rose, a new vigor replaced the panic that had overwhelmed her.
He remained mute.
“What will you do with us?” she screamed. “Will you pleasure yourself at the expense of my flesh? Does this bring you joy? Pleasure?”
The man stared through Nala, the edges his mask faltered.
“Do you feel shame? Slay us to appease your guilt? You are a monster!”
He stared stoically at the slave girl spewing venom. Her breath came short, a temporary reprieve from the tongue lashing.
And then the man spoke.