A Price for a Princess (Excerpt)
“What the hell is that?” I asked, stopping in my tracks as I saw a long wooden stage set up to the right, just outside of the market area of the main street. Men and women of differing species were chained by their wrists to an overhead beam, many of them entirely naked, while a man in a dark suit called out their attributes to a few standing in front of the stage.
“It is an auction.” Tyrant said in my ear, giving me a gentle shove.
“A slave auction? Are those humans?” My mouth fell open in shock. I’d never seen anything so barbaric.
The men looked at the stage, assessing the three females and five males. “Two maybe are human, the others are different species. Come, princess,” Rysk said, giving me a larger nudge.
“But it’s wrong. Slavery is wrong.” I hissed angrily and a few in the crowd turned to look at me.
This time they didn’t just nudge me, they locked their big hands under my arms and towed me the rest of the way out of town. When we were far enough away, Rysk said, “Those people, as you called them, are slaves for a reason. Either they are debtors and could not pay what they owed, or their families or owners sold, or they are being punished for breaking the laws of the kingdom.”
“Families sell their own into slavery? What the hell for?” I glanced backwards, seeing the Dire Wolves gather to move with us.
“For money, princess. This place, this realm, is not like yours. Slavery is alive here, and many of those people were born into slavery with parents as slaves, and they will die with their chains.” Tyrant said.
Fury stole over me, combined with something I wasn’t used to: impotence. I had absolutely no control over what was going to happen to those people, and I knew that storming over there and punching the man in the dark suit in the nose wouldn’t help those people.
“Does the prince keep slaves?”
“He does. It is our way. But the prince takes care of his slaves and treats them well.” Rysk promised.
I wanted to argue that no matter how well someone was treated, if they’re owned by another it’s not right, but I kept my mouth shut. I mentally kicked the images of the slaves into the corner of my mind, determined to talk to the prince about the practice when I got to his castle. Right was right, and there wasn’t anything right about keeping people in slavery.
Time eeked by as we followed the well traveled road. What had just been a mild ache in my feet when we began walking that morning, turned into acute agony by the time we were halfway to the next town. The town we had just left called Dran was populated mostly by traders, who were used to traveling through the Meadowlanz and tended to be of less than reputable character. It sounded like an entire town full of pirates.
The town we were headed to was called Cholas, one of the largest towns in the kingdom. I asked about Cholas, and the sort of town it was, and they assured me that it was a safer place than Dran, but the peace the town knew was an uneasy one. The town was shared by not only various forms of nymphs, nearly extinct shifters, and various monsters that sounded like the stuff of nightmares, but the two major groups were the Centaurs and the Vehsi. The Vehsi were a human-like race that considered themselves the law and order in the town and treated the Centaurs like chattel.
“Why do they hate the Centaurs so much?”
“An old feud, between one of the Centaur leaders and the Vehsi king, many years ago. The Centaurs are a warrior race, but they strive for peace and will only raise a weapon to defend and protect. They would have put the feud aside eons ago but the Vehsi have long memories and prefer to try to drive the Centaurs from the town.” Rysk said, chewing thoughtfully on a piece of sweetgrass.
“Why don’t the Centaurs leave if they’re being tormented?”
“Would you leave your home because some unsavory characters came in and tried to push you out?” Tyrant raised a brow at me.
“Well, yeah. I mean, if I had kids to look after, I wouldn’t want them to become collateral damage for a feud I had nothing to do with.”
Their curious and amused looks told me that I didn’t understand why the Centaurs stayed, and that was true.
We drew closer to the town by small degrees, stopping every few miles to sit on the grass at the side of the road and rest our legs. Everyone was fairing better than me, even though I had kept my complaints to myself. The closer we drew to the city, though, the more anxious I became. I could feel my bear prowling in the recesses of my mind, eager and demanding I keep walking. I had talked to my mom about shifting, and she said to think of my bear as part of myself, an extra part that few were lucky to have. I closed my eyes as we sat on the grass and opened myself up to my bear. Everything heightened immediately. I could smell the grass around us as if my face were buried in the thick strands. I could scent the dust and dirt of the road and could pick out where the Dire Wolves prowled nearby. I was excited to shift, excited to see if I really was going to be something unique and incredible.
This journey, this incredible journey, was teaching me a lot about myself and it was only a short time in the making. As I cast my eyes towards the city of Cholas, I could feel my bear pacing in my mind with excitement. Something lay in the city that I was meant to find, I was sure of it. What it all meant, I didn’t know, but I was learning quickly to take things as they came in this realm where anything was possible.
***End of Excerpt***