Once again, Kikuta Mai arrived at the hidden village as a captive. Only now, she wasn't there to help.
She was there to suffer.
With only a moth-eaten gray robe to wear, Mai had been stuffed in a cramped cage in the corner of the village. The punishment house sat lower than the other buildings so that it would partially flood if it rained hard enough. Prisoners deserved pain, after all.
Every day in that cage brought a new ordeal, courtesy of Hiroshi's wife Akemi. On the first day, Akemi forced Mai against a rough wall and whipped her back raw and bloody, then followed up with painful ointments to help the wounds heal. On the second day, Akemi left Mai to starve until sundown, then fed her the bare minimum at night. On the third day, Mai had to hold up buckets of human waste. On the fourth day, she had a painful stomachache, so she got to stay in her cage after much pleading. She did not, however, get to sleep at night, for Akemi made sure she could never get one wink of rest until she keeled over on the morning of the next day.
As soon as Mai awoke, Akemi tossed her some clothing. Through blurry eyes, Mai held it up, and the black-and-white coloring was unmistakable; she had her dando once more, and it was clean as can be. Mai staggered to her feet, threw off her gray robe, and put the barbarian garment back on. Mustering all of her strength, she stood up straight.
"I have something else for you as well," Akemi said as she handed Mai a sword. Her repiya! Mai fastened the sword to her waist.
"Why? Why have you given me back my weapons?" Mai asked.
"Because my husband wishes to talk to you," Akemi answered. Nervousness mixed with excitement ran through Mai; her hands shook with anticipation and fear. Akemi beckoned her to exit the cage, and Mai stepped forward, ready to meet her general once again.
Mai was led through the cave and out of the village. Along the way, Mai was given berries and bits of dried deer meat to eat; as the food filled her up, her body celebrated. Aches and pains conspired to prevent her movement, but she pushed on, brimming with new energy. It wasn't long before they reached the exit.
Mai and Akemi stood before a windswept field. Clouds drifted through a blue sky. The fresh air smelled nice. Bird songs lilted from the mountains.
And Hiroshi, in mask and suit, waited for the both of them. Five disheveled samurai stood near him, and in front of them was a tied up Sana with her dando lowered just enough to expose her breasts. Mai tensed, and her palms sweated.
"Good afternoon, Kikuta Mai -- I hope you rested well," Hiroshi said.
"General, what happened?" Mai asked. She knew better than to yell at him, even now.
"While you suffered in detention, we made use of your lovely friend," Hiroshi said.
Mai drew her sword. "General, how could you?" she asked.
"It's quite easy. We noticed her beauty, so we satisfied our appetites. She's quite soft to the touch, too."
The fires of rage burned within Mai. She glanced at Hiroshi, the men, and Akemi -- and to her astonishment, not a single one had a weapon. Even if they did have weapons, whatever they drew would not be enough to stop her. She could escape with Sana through the open field, and they could push further ahead-
If she so much as took a step forward, Hiroshi could drop her where she stood with just his voice. All her strength meant nothing; if Hiroshi wanted to use her right this very moment, she could not resist. Hiroshi and Akemi wanted to make one thing clear to Mai: they owned both her and Sana. Her weapons didn't matter. Her enchanted dando didn't matter.
Her wishes didn't matter.
Mai put her repiya away and got on her hands and knees.
"My deepest apologies for my insubordinate actions. I am yours to command, always," Mai said. She gripped the grass as hard as she could.
Mai did so, and she braced herself for more punishment.
"Absolute headache," Hiroshi said. Mai's eyes widened, but she had to suffer. She was only a weapon to be wielded, not a person.
But no pain came.
"Absolute headache," Hiroshi said again. Still, nothing happened.
Mai's eyes widened; Sana had come through for her! The maid put her hand to the hilt of her blade, ready to skewer all of her tormentors, including Akemi. With pent-up rage, she drew the blade back.
And then realized that killing them meant more life on the run. More nights of hunger, more nights of discomfort. Money would be hard to come by, and both of them would be forced to sell their bodies.
To end Hiroshi's life would be to subject both of them to even worse indignities.
Mai put her weapon away, then unhooked it from her belt and handed it to Hiroshi with a bow. "I do not deserve this sword. Punish me as you must, General," she said.
"Very well. You are hereby sentenced to fight alongside my men at Blood River," Hiroshi said.
Mai dropped the sword. "You mean it?" she asked.
"Every word. In seven days' time, we will march on the stronghold of our enemy," Hiroshi said.
"Thank you -- thank you so much!" Mai said, bowing. But one glance at Sana turned joy to despair. The men undid Sana's bonds, then Sana readjusted her dando so that it covered her breasts.
She walked up to Mai and embraced her. Mai returned it, happy to be reunited with her friend once more.
Sana leaned into the maid's ear. "They never did anything to me. All this was my idea," she said. And somehow, Sana's deception devastated Mai even more.
Neither of them were sure how they'd survive Blood River.
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I'm Rawle Nyanzi, a professional author who seeks only to entertain. My blog is a convenient place where you can find all my writings and some of my opinions on various topics relating to politics, pop culture, and even gender.
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