THE LILIAD

Senachie

lataine@hotmail.com

Chapter 17: Assault And Flattery

As the darkness closed around her, Lila felt herself being violently battered by the mass of raging muscle beneath her. With each thrust and jolt, the beast seemed to be straining to fling her wildly from its back and to mash her, with overwhelming zeal, into the earth. Its crude force hammered and shook until Lila felt her grasp giving way, clenched fingers turning frigid and numb in their grip around the stirrup. From deep inside her, a sound emerged, a louder, more piercing shriek than she had ever emitted. A open hand slammed down hard against her backside and grabbed the sheer fabric of her skirt, wrenching her hip more tightly against the cantle of the hard leather saddle.

"Keep a firm grip or you'll plummet to your death, you damn hussy!" a voice flew at her out of the darkness.

Lila clung so tightly in terror that, for days afterwards, the palms and fingers of her hand below the knuckles bore the impress of the brass stirrup. And the gods only knew if Alexis had been able to hold on for the sake of her own dear life.

In what may have been a turn of the sandglass or the passage of a candlemark Ė or an eternity of bashing and thrashing Ė the horse left off its galloping and gradually slowed to a trot. Yet Lila's agony in no way diminished as repeated slices of sharp, virulent pain, due to the sudden deceleration of the horse's shaking and bumping, slashed across her brow and slammed into the base of her skull. Then, as grasping hands pawed at her body and harsh voices shouted contradictory commands, up came her evening's meal no sooner than groping hands had dragged off the horse's bony rump. Her head enflamed, her stomach retching, her mouth and nose filled with spit and goo, Lila was oblivious to the pain from the gash in her cheek and the cut above her upper lip, and had yet to take note of the trickle of blood now beginning to cake below her collar bone under the shirred edge of her light cotton blouse.

Though Alexis, who'd been gripped tightly in her captor's saddle, had been spared the worst of Lila's torturous ride, she was more immediately in danger of serious injury from pain, swelling, loss of blood and incipient shock in the gathering cold of the deepening night. Down on the ground, Alexis wavered unsteadily on her feet, seemingly unaware of her surroundings, on the verge of lapsing into a deadly stupor.

One of her assailants must have noticed that Alexis was about to collapse. "Cesspoulos! Keep the bitch moving! Donít let her pass out!"

Cesspoulos slapped a hammerlock on Alexis' arm and marched her in and out of the ring of horses that were now assembled in the wooded clearing. Alexis stumbled and fell. Cesspoulos jerked her violently to her feet. This sudden, wrenching movement caused Alexis to cry out in pain, less from the gash on her face, which by now had gone numb, than from the hard cranking of her shoulder in its socket. As night entrenched itself more deeply in the woods, Alexis, like Lila, dressed only in a light cotton blouse and thin skirt, shivered and trembled with the cold.

Lila struggled to her knees. "Lexie," she moaned in the darkness too softly for Alexis to hear.

"Silence!" a jagged voice cried and at once Lila felt the sharp sting of an open palm rake across her other, unwounded cheek. Lila recoiled from the slap and lost her balance, sinking further down on her knees. Her hand instinctively sought the ground to break her fall as she landed in the dirt.

When she felt her hand moosh the dirt now turned mud by her vomit and reeking of the sour stench which now reached her nose, Lila began to cry.

"I said to put a clamp on it!" A loud, threatening voice warned, but the sound of the loud voice, its cruelty and harshness, the threat betokened by it, only succeeded in making Lila cry harder.

"Quit your blubbering, I said!" the voice hovered closer and sharper.

Lila tried to regain control of herself but couldn't as a gaping sob lobbed up from her belly to escape from her mouth.

"I'm warning you: I'll blast you to Tartarus if you donít stop sniveling!" the voice cried, and then Lila felt the pounding edge of a fist land with a painful, jarring thud on the round bone at the base of her skull, driving her face nearly to the ground.

"I can't," Lila wept, barely audibly, with pain and fear. "I'm trying to but I can't."

Lilaís captor was about to slam her again, harder this time. He'd silence the bitch with a blow. But the group's leader called to him in a loud whisper, "Lugnuts! Leave the broad alone. Get her mounted on the palfrey while me and Cesspoulos check out the trail."

"On your feet, baby doll," Lugnuts grabbed Lila by the arm and jerked her upright. In a dizzying rush, the blood surged from Lila's head to her waist and legs, making her giddy and nearly causing her to fall to her knees.

In his leather armor with the visor of his bird mask drawn up from his grainy forehead, Lugnuts towered a full head and shoulders above Lila. He slapped a vice-like grip on Lila's arm to keep her from fainting, then forced her to stumble the dozen paces to the side of one of the palfreys, both mounts having been tethered to the trees for the past several candlemarks, awaiting Lila's and Alexis' arrival. "Youíre made of mush," Lugnuts grunted. "You're all jiggle and flab."

Cesspoulos approached with Alexis in tow. "This one don't got much kick left in her, do you, babes?" Cesspoulos gave Alexis a sharp elbow in the ribs.

Alexis recoiled, then stared back at Cesspoulos with a dazed expression on her face as she mumbled, "I'm gonna wet my pants."

"Peww, go squat," Cesspoulos let her go.

In front of everyone, in the bare nick of time, Alexis dropped her drawers and whizzed.

"A couple of flippiní stinkpots. Let's get 'em the Hades outta here," Cesspoulos hauled Alexis up from the turf and propelled her toward the palfrey that was waiting next to the mount that Lila was now teetering alongside of. "Gimme your foot."

Alexis, still woozy, shook her head. "Nnnnggg..."

"I said gimme your friggin' foot!" Cesspoulos grabbed Alexis by her square shoulders and was about to give her a violent shake when he went, "Nah, forget it." He reached down and seized her leg by the calf, lifted her shin and rammed her foot into one of the stirrups. "Now get your butt up there!" he shouted as he half-hoisted, half-shoved Alexis' bottom up to the saddle, then forced her other leg parallel to the first on the same side of the saddle. "Now hold onto these and don't let Ďem drop," he commanded, pulling one of Alexis' hands forward and wrapping the reins around one of her wrists. "We'll take it nice and slow, so you don't got no excuses. Either of you!"

"Your turn," Lugnuts shot a cold glance at Lila. "Get on the horse and hold onto the straps the way he was just showiní your friend."

The sight of Alexis perched on the saddle brought a slight measure of hopeful color to Lila's cheeks. Whatever might happen, at least they were still together. Though her face now began to scream with shooting flashes of pain, Lila's sobs had had the effect of steadying her nerves. If nothing else, she'd been able to catch her breath. She wanted to tell her captors that she didn't know if her stomach was done heaving yet, but she was afraid that if she did, Lugnuts might hit her again, so she kept mum.

"Mount up," Lugnuts glowered.

Lila gulped and shook her head, trying to wick the dizziness out of it. Then she searched clumsily for the stirrup.

"Friggin' bimbo acts like she's never been on a horse. Címon, pick your foot up and wiggle it," Lugnuts came over to assist.

"Don't! I can do it," Lila cringed. She managed to locate the stirrup and, though she had a hard time boosting herself up, she finally climbed aboard.

The group started clopping through a space between the trees onto a steadily climbing path. The lead rider was followed by Cesspoulos, then Alexis whose mount was hitched to Cesspoulos' mount; then Lugnuts, then Lila whose mount was hitched to Lugnuts' mount, and finally Gunkis, the scout, who brought up the rear.

There was just enough illumination for Lila to make a mental note, through the screen of her fear, pain and disorientation, that the group was making its way through a thin stretch of woods that ascended gradually to a low ridge above a brushwork of vaguely familiar meadows. Lila was aware that having crashed through the gate, at some point after the shouts of alarm and the cries of distress had faded into the distance, the gang had left the dirt road north of town for the bumpier grind of the forest path.

Three roads were accessible from the town's main gate. One road ran northwest past Lila's village to widen and join another road that eventually merged with the high road to Thessaloniki. The second road, the Strymon Road, ran northeast in the direction of Amphipolis. The third road ran more easterly to became the road to Stagira. Selene's waning bow was rising in the eastern sky, and, judging from the route that the horses were taking and the pattern of the fields that she could make out in the dim glint of the moonlight, Lila guessed that the group had taken this third road and was moving in an easterly direction away from Poteidaia's surrounding villages, though still skirting the coast. If so, it might mean that Latrinus' gang had already begun an evacuation.

Whatever the actual time and distance, the ride through the woods seemed interminable. Its pace, though slower than a trot, was grueling in the wake of the way in which Lila and Alexis had been manhandled.

By dint of sheer determination, Lila and Alexis, escorted by Latrinus' goons, reached their destination some time into the wee candlemarks: a camp comprised of several large tents, two fair-sized wooden huts, several outdoor fire pits and a hastily erected enclosure for the horses, with large piles of feed coupled with numerous bales of straw stacked in a tall windbreak. The camp was nestled into a ford beneath an overhanging ridge which allowed for a measure protection from the elements and, in the daytime, offered a clear view of any intruders who might hazard a risky approach from below. The larger of the wooden huts, whose contours were barely visible in the darkness save for a line of dancing lanterns strung on a cord between the porch posts, served as Latrinus' quonset.

The worst of the women's physical ordeal appeared to be over. Cesspoulos and Lugnuts dismounted, then hauled Lila and Alexis down from the palfreys and ushered them into the larger hut in which, flanked by several lackeys, Latrinus, armored in bracers, greaves and breastplate, a heavy, double-edged sword sheathed in a scabbard at his side, stood behind a long wooden table, poring over rolls of parchment which looked, to Lila, as though they were covered in a wealth of incomprehensible signs and symbols.

When Lila and Alexis entered the hut, Latrinus rose to his full height. He was tall and robust with sturdy though not bulging biceps. His dark, crinkled hair shagged to his shoulders. He moved easily in his bronze and leather vestments and appeared light on his feet as he came around to the front of the table to scrutinize his captives.

"Had some rough going, I see," Latrinus said, barely able to conceal a grin. "Glad you got here in one piece. I wasn't sure you would. Go get 'em cleaned up."

"Could we... have some water..., please?" Lila mustered through her splitting headache. Alexis, though standing, looked to be dozing on her feet. "My friend is badly hurt."

"Some water? Sure. And maybe something for those cuts," Latrinus motioned to an aide. "Anything else?"

Lila glanced quickly at Alexis and, with her insides shrieking, 'Yes! Take us home!' she shook her head and said nothing

"Good," Latrinus said. "Septix, see to the ladiesí needs."

One of Latrinus' camp followers, a smooth-shaven fellow Ė young, slender, of a delicate build with light brown eyes not yet hardened by the campís prevailing atmosphere of casual brutality Ė showed Lila and Alexis to the neighboring hut which was partitioned into twin compartments, one of them fitted out with blankets, animal hides and a couple of straw pallets. A water pitcher sat on a low table alongside several plates and wooden spoons.

Septix escorted Lila and Alexis to the inner compartment, through the beaded curtain which allowed for a slight measure of privacy, and gestured for them to sit down. Then, oddly, Lila thought, he suggested that they draw back their hair and bind it with the lengths of ribbon which he then gave them before he extracted an herbal disinfectant and some bandages from a wooden footlocker.

"Those are nasty scrapes," Septix removed the stopper from one of the glass vials and poured some clear liquid onto a scrap of clean cloth.

Lila glanced at Alexis who'd sunk down on one of the pallets. At last, Lila could get a close look at Alexisí face. It was bloody and swollen. One eye was nearly puffed shut.

"Lexie," Lila took one of Alexis' hands in both of hers, "you're gonna need stitches."

Still not able to or perhaps not choosing to speak, Alexis shrugged.

"Do her first," Lila said, firmly. "She's worse off than me."

"Actually, she isn't," Septix snapped opened the first aid kit. "Her wounds may be bloodier but they're cleaner."

Lila sat down on the other pallet. "May we have some water..., please," she said softly, hoping she didn't sound as though she were begging.

Septix reached for the pitcher, poured some water into one of the mugs and handed the mug to Lila. "Force yourself to take tiny sips or youíll get monster cramps."

Lila handed the cup to Alexis who shook her head. "You first," Alexis whispered.

"Come on, Lexie, you're hurt," Lila insisted.

Alexis reached for the mug and took a sip, waited, took another sip and handed the mug to Lila who took a sip, waited, took another sip, waited, took a third sip, then handed the mug back to Alexis who took a sip, waited, took another sip, then handed the mug back to Lila who took the last two sips.

"More?" Septix said.

"Please," Lila said, handing him the mug.

Septix re-filled it. This time Lila slowly drank it all and handed the mug to Septix to be re-filled for Alexis who took the mug and slowly drank it all.

"That's enough for now," Septix struck a flint to sterilize his needles. "Come on, I'll do you up," he looked at Lila. "Then I'll tend to your friend."

The thought of a man placing a hand on her body, even a helping hand, filled Lila with disgust, but she knew she needed the help, so she relented.

That Septix dressed her wound with a gentle, competent touch along with the fact that he was wearing a plain cloth tunic and not plated armor only made Lila angrier than she might otherwise have been. What kind of a game were these kidnappers playing? Beat up on us, patch us up, and then what, beat up on us again?

"Oww!" Lila winced more in anger than pain.

"Good. You want it to sting," Septix said. "That means the infection hasn't taken hold. Stay still. There's still some grit in there that needs to come out."

"Why are you doing this?" Lila sat tight while Septix dabbed at the deeper part of her wound.

"So we won't have to lance it later," Septix reached for a clean swab. "Iím going to stretch the skin a little. It might hurt, but I'll only need one pass at it."

"I mean why have you brought us here?" Lila grimaced as Septix nimbly tended to the last of the swabbing and sterilizing.

"That youíll have to take that up with Latrinus," Septix went to apply the bandage. "Not much of an answer, is it?"

"No, it isn't," Lila winced as Septix made contact with the rawest, most tender part of her swollen, aching flesh.

"Hold down and press lightly," Septix handed Lila a wad of fresh dressing, then guided her hand to her face. "The salve from these aloe and barley hops ought to take the edge off the worst of the pain. I'm leaving you some poultices. I want you to change them when the ones youíve got on get crusty."

Then Septix had a look at Alexis' wounds. "Focus on my finger. See if you can follow it." Septix swayed his finger to the left and then to the right, up and then down, then around in a circle. "Good," he said, satisfied with Alexis' eye movements. "Now let's get you patched up."

Septix cleaned the wound, then took a small flask from his pouch. "Spirits," he offered the flask to Alexis. "Your friendís right. You need stitches."

Alexis shook her head and fended off the flask. "Don't want it," she muttered.

"You want to do it cold?" Septix said.

Alexis nodded grimly.

"Three ought to take care of it," Septix said, "though I think you'd be wise to down some of this brandy first."

Alexis again refused the flask. "Just do it."

"Hold my hand, Lex," Lila said.

Alexis took Lilaís hand as Septix got to work. She screeched at the first stitch and groaned at the second but bore the third in silence, white knuckling it with one hand, then with both hands, squeezing Lila's hand as tight as she could.

Septix tied off the stitches, picked up the pitcher, poured some water into the mug and handed it to Alexis. "Swallow but don't gulp."

Alexis drank part of what was in the mug and gave the rest to Lila who polished it off.

"You're a tough nut," Septix looked at Alexis with the trace of a smile. "There's men twice your size who couldn't have borne up half as well."

Alexis looked at the floor with a blank expression on her face.

"Not what you want to be hearing right now," Septix acknowledged. Then he re-packed the first aid kit and got up to go. "Itíll be light in a few candlemarks," he said to Lila. "Donít let her nod off. Thereís still a small risk of concussion. Keep her moving, make her walk around, talk to her. If you catch yourself dozing, give a yell. I'll send somebody in to spell you. Once it starts getting a little bit light out, the two of you can sack out."

Septix let himself out the door. Aching but bandaged, Lila and Alexis were left alone.

Neither said a word for several turns of the sandglass. Finally, Lila broke the silence. "Lex, can you hear me?"

"Uh huh," Alexis nodded.

"Lexie, look at you," Lila said with tender anguish. "You really took it on the chin, didnít you?"

Alexis raised her eyes to meet Lila's, and, for the first time, Alexisí eyes seemed a trifle alert as she murmurred, "So did you."

Then Alexis leaned forward, placed her forehead gently on Lila's shoulder and, as Lila swept wide arms around Alexis to hold and rock her, Alexis silently sobbed.

When Septix came back a while later, Lila and Alexis were walking arm in arm around the narrow compartment.

"Oranges, mangoes, papayas," Lila was saying, "what other kinds of fruit do you like to have with your fruit salad?"

"Peaches," Alexis said.

"Peaches are good," Lila said.

Septix lingered by the entrance to the compartment, the beaded curtain drawn to one side. Lila glanced at Septix, then at Alexis, then back at Septix as though waiting for him to take charge.

"May I come in?" Septix said.

Lila nodded.

"How's she doing?" Septix sorted through the bandages which lay on the table. The water pitcher was nearly empty.

"Hanging in," Lila said.

"Your friend says you're hanging in," Septix said to Alexis.

"I guess," Alexis said, still iffy on her feet.

"You two look wiped."

"Duh!" went Lila and Alexis simultaneously.

"You can sack out pretty soon, but let me have a peek at those stitches first," Septix came over to inspect. "Good, theyíre holding. Itís almost dawn. Try to stay awake and on your feet for another half a candlemark."

"Any idea what they're planning to do with us?" Lila said as Septix turned to go.

"I donít think Latrinus is going to hurt you, if thatís what you mean," Septix said. "Iím guessing itís pretty much a waiting game from here on out."

"Waiting for..."

"I imagine the two of you are pawns in some kind of a game Latrinus is playing," Septix said. "Probably has something to do with your sister being good friends with Xena."

"Now why doesnít that surprise me," Lila grumbled.

"Thereís a guard posted outside the door. Don't try and run away. Itíll just give Cesspoulos and Lugnuts an excuse to beat up on you some more," Septix let himself out of the compartment. The beaded curtain swayed and rattled, then hung straight and still.

"Will they at least let our families know that we're here?" Lila called after him.

The curtain crinkled and Septix stuck his head back in. "I expect thatís part of the plan," he said and ducked out of the hut.

"I guess we're their prisoners, then," Lila turned and looked at Alexis.

"I'm so sorry, Lee," Alexis picked up the water jug and then set it down. "Itís my fault. If it weren't for my stupid grandstanding, we wouldn't be in this mess."

"How could this be your fault?" Lila said. "How could you be to blame for us getting kidnapped?"

"My fantasizing about living a life of adventure," Alexis sighed. "Being jealous of Gab Ďcause she gets to run all over the place with Xena. Corking those two goons when I should have minded my own business and stayed out of the way."

"Youíre not the only one whoís had adventure-type fantasies. I've had my share of them too," Lila owned. "Anyhow, our dads are probably scouring the woods, looking high and low for us. I just hope theyíll be careful and not get led into a trap."

Suddenly an agonized look burst on Alexis' face. "O! He was out there with us! What did they do to O! Did anything bad happened to O?!"

A flood of anger surged through Alexis, and that surge, more than any rote recitation of her phiís and chiís or muddling over the kinds of fruit she liked to have with her fruit salad, helped to restore her mind to fuller consciousness. "We were out there dancing; you, me and The Big O. By the gods, what did they do to O?!"

"I don't know. I didn't see," Lila said, feeling helpless.

"Cowards!" Alexis hissed. "Did you see how he got out there and danced with us? That was a really big step for O to take. He's always been so hung up about his leg, and the guys havenít made it easy for him. OhÖ," Alexis lay across one of the pallets, "just when he was starting to gain some confidence in himself. I'll tear these idiots apart if they did anything to hurt him.

"It was so neat seeing O get out there, even if it was just for some shilly-shallying in a circle. I was so happy for him," Alexis looked at Lila through a bleary mist of lightly forming tears. "Mooviní and grooviní with the two people I care about most in the world Ė not forgetting Mom and Dad, of course, or Galen and Menarchos over in Troy."

"Did you hear that guy Ė Septix Ė say how he thought we might be pawns in some kind of a game?" Lila sat on the pallet next to Alexis. "Something to do with Gab and Xena. Theyíre holding us for some kind of ransom, most likely."

"Thatís great," Alexis said sarcastically, wiping her nose on the back of her wrist. "Take everything Mom and Dad have worked and slaved for. We'd lose the cottage. Mom would lose her baking ovens. Oh, Lee, I donít think I could live with all that guilt."

Lila's mind was temporarily lost in thought. What about her own family? The cottage, the byre, Herodotus' kegs of ale and the gardening that gave him so much pleasure, the few extra dinars that made it possible for Hecuba to venture out to the market in search of the calico, print fabrics and quilting material for the rag dolls she liked to make and sell at fairs or give away as gifts. The thought of those potential losses made Lila feel ill.

"I guess we'll just have to wait and see," Lila sighed.

"And hope we can find a way out of here," Alexis added quietly.

Exhausted, Lila and Alexis finally crashed. Septix came back after sunrise to find them zonked out on their pallets. He covered Lila and then Alexis with a couple of fleece-lined skins as the sun peeked over the knolls behind the cultivated meadows which Lila had spotted on the ride to the camp. And though Latrinus' operatives were busy beavers now that the first part of their plan had kicked into gear Ė launching into their next phase by dumping unneeded items from camouflaged wagons and carts, inventorying weapons and supplies, whipping the horses into shape, charting alternate escape routes north and east toward the chilly steppes of Thrace and then through jagged mountain passes to the wilds of Bulgary, deciding who would go with whom if and when they found they had to split up Ė Lila and Alexis, under guard, slept as soundly as a couple of bumps on a log until late in the morning.

"Rise and shine! On your feet! Letís go!" a gruff voice awakened them as Cesspoulos came swaggering through the curtain into the compartment to yank the warm skins off their fatigued bodies.

"Hunh?" Lila awoke with a grunt and immediately winced from the screeching pain of her facial wound. The dressing which she'd applied before she'd nodded off was clingy with clotted blood.

"Latrinus wants to see you on the double," Cesspoulos carped. "Okay, Red, up and at 'em!"

"Leave her alone. Can't you see she's hurt?" Lila rose from her pallet as Alexis, head wracked with pain and lacerations throbbing, swung her feet onto the floor and tried to sit up.

Cesspoulos looked at Lila with a bemused expression on his knobby face. "You're tellin' me what I can and canít do? You'd best watch your mouth, girlie, or you'll be sippin' your breakfast through a straw."

Cesspoulos made a menacing feint in Lila's direction. With eyes wide in apprehension, Lila cringed to avoid his mocking thrust.

"Ha, ha," Cesspoulos snickered. "First you squawk and then you balk. Wouldn't be no mistakin' you for no kind of Warrior Princess with her big brass boobs and little round frisbee."

"Lay off her; I'm up," Alexis said with a slight moan, hoping to ward off further trouble. But as soon as Alexis was on her feet, she cried, "Whoa, lemme outta here..."

Alexis tried to stumble out of the compartment but Cesspoulos shoved her back in. Turning away, Alexis doubled over and threw up on the floor beside the pallet.

"Lexie!" Lila squatted down and took Alexis by the shoulders.

"It's okay," Alexis gasped. "It happens quick. I'm done."

"You must have swallowed gouts of blood," Lila said.

"Uh uh," Alexis shook her head. "Itís been happening for the past week. I wake up in the morning feeling yucky and then I start to puke."

"Maybe you've come down with a bug," Lila helped Alexis to her feet.

"I seem to do okay the rest of the day, though," Alexis brushed off her blouse and skirt.

"Would you get something to wipe that up with, please," Lila said to Cesspoulos.

Incensed that he was being spoken to as though he were their servant, Cesspoulos was about to give Lila a further demonstration of his cheek-slapping prowess when Septix appeared in the doorway and peered through the beaded curtain. Then he noticed the gunk on the floor. "Oops, looks like somebody had an accident. I'll get some rags to goop that up with."

"The boss wants to see 'em! Now!" Cesspoulos barked at Septix.

"Then you and Lugnuts give the place a good scrubbing while they're gone," Septix said. "But first those bandages have got to come off."

"Just make it snappy," Cesspoulos said as he walked out the door, though not before giving Lila another extremely hostile look.

Septix attended to Alexis while Lila went to use the commode. Someone, probably Septix, had replenished the water pitcher while Lila and Alexis had been asleep and had also supplied them with clean receptacle paper.

"Itís starting to drain," Septix examined Alexis' wound. "Is it aching?"

"A little," Alexis nodded.

"More than a little, I bet," Septix reached into the pouch of his tunic and brought out a small packet sewn from papyrus. "Mint and pekoe leaves. Sprinkle them into the mug, fill it with water, let it stand for a bit, then sip it slowly. These ought to do something for the pain. I've got some of these for you, too," Septix said to Lila when Lila came back to the compartment. "Now: can you ladies can stand the thought of a piping hot breakfast?"

Lila and Alexis looked at each other. Yeah, they nodded, a hearty breakfast sounds pretty good at this point.

"In the meantime, I'll see if I can rustle up some duds that might be more useful than the ones you've got on," Septix nodded at their light cotton dresses.

In the hard glare of the morning light, Septix led Lila and Alexis across the compound to Latrinus's hut.

"Check out the bod on the redhead," Cesspoulos muttered to Lugnuts loud enough for Alexis and Lila to overhear as they walked by. "Built like a brick sugar shack, that one."

"The darkhaired one ain't bad either," Lugnuts snarled. "Nice face on her. Bet there's other parts of her that're nice too."

Cesspoulos dug the tip of his sword into the sandy loam at his feet. "Our day will come," he mumbled with assurance.

Lugnuts clapped the hilt of his dagger against the palm of his open hand and leered at Lila as the women walked through the door of Latrinus' hut. "Maybe it already has," he sniggered.

Continued in Part 18


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