Aeliana had long since given up on her family coming for her. It had been two weeks since Malich had sold her to the man she learned was called Mr. Danari. He told her he was taking all of them to Kyrvian, the capital of the country. The city where the palace was. The city where the royal family lived. The city where they would most likely fetch a higher price.
"Oh yes I've wanted you for quite a long time." He gloated to her. "I saw you in the market about, oh a month or two ago, and I knew I'd fetch a nice price indeed for a girl with your looks. So I ask your brother, you know it would be one less mouth to feed, save more room on the table for the others and whatnot. Took some convincing mind you, but we worked out a price he just couldn't refuse."
Fifteen gold pieces. Aeliana remembered faintly. With that money they could have fed their family of nine for several weeks. Fifteen gold pieces. Was that what she was worth to her brother? He valued fifteen gold coins over her? She didn't cry, she'd long since stopped her tears. Besides, she didn't have enough water or energy in her body to waste any on tears. Her stomach rumbled but she ignored it. She'd gotten some unleavened bread the night she was taken, and mouthfuls of dirty water was regularly passed among the people who were all crammed into the tiny wagon, but other than that she hadn't had any nourishment since leaving home. And it showed. She'd lost an alarming amount of weight in the last two weeks and more of her ribs were showing than they ever had before. She'd always been skinnier than normal because of her family's financial status, but never like this. Her hair hung in clumps, knots had overtaken it. Her skin was sunken and her eyes were dull. She was a deteriorated shell of the girl from two weeks ago, her body falling apart to illness from hunger. She'd lost so much of her once alluring beauty Mr. Danari had noticed her for. She was so ashamed of how she looked, but could hardly do much of anything anymore. She'd never had the finest clothes, but she'd always made an effort to be as nice as they could afford, and now she looked worse than even the village orphans who would beg for scraps on the street. The ones who had no place to live, the ones who slept under bridges and who had hardly any clothes to cover them up.
She hardly had the energy to raise her head to drink the filthy water anymore, and a disgusting cough wracked her body day and night. Her fellow prisoners didn't have very good conditions either. She heard a whoop come from Mr. Danari. She lifted her head and peered through the bars of the wagon. Up ahead on the horizon was a magnificent palace made with polished marble, gleaming in the morning light like a star. Surrounding the palace was the biggest city she'd ever seen, with so many roads and streets that it made her dizzy. Granted, she was always dizzy now. The farther away from the main city were charming manor houses and the farther out you got there was smaller houses and farms where the lesser wealthy lived. They passed a few of these slowly, the oxen pulling the twenty or so of them were tired. Not to mention the barrels of water hooked up to the back of the wagon.
They made their way to the gates, where a massive wall guarded the city. They were given safe passage through, and the densely packed city was opened up before them. Aeliana wished she could get excited but she had nothing in her for such emotions. She was just exhausted all the time now. She'd never seen so many people or so many shops at once. There were people rushing this way and that, merchants selling so many beautiful things such as jewelry and fine cloths. Some merchants had brought goods from the Eastern Lands, fine spices and perfumes, and a purple fabric was being shown about that could only have been silk. Aeliana had never seen it in person, but traveling merchants had described it to her once, how it shimmered like the sun on water, and the soft, sleek way it felt. It was magnificent.
They turned away from the market and headed down a different road. They finally stopped outside of a building that read "bathhouse" Danari pulled the wagon into a alleyway next door, where animal feeding trophy were present. The oxen began slurping up water greedily.
"Right," Mr. Danari said. "Some of you are in worse conditions that others and I can't be selling poor merchandise. So I've arranged a deal with the bathhouse for you all to get at least a little bit clean before this afternoon, when you'll be viewed and selected." Aeliana heard a muffled sob from one of the young girls, no older than eight. Aeliana thought fleetingly of her little sisters. Mr. Danari hopped out of the driver's seat and his two brawny muscle men jumped off from the back corners, where they each rode. They began pulling each of their prisoners out, keeping their wrists tied to one long rope that held them all together. Aeliana was roughly tossed out onto the dirt path. She managed to keep her footing however, and soon they were all shoved into the small bathhouse. Putting one foot in front of the other took more effort than she would have thought, and a mucus filled cough began to take over. There were five small separate rooms where each of the baths were. The lady greeted Mr. Danari and his men, but eyed the rest of them with distain. "You put more care into your work than most." She commented. Mr Danari grinned, then his eyes fell on Aeliana. He whispered something to the lady, who nodded. "Alright, women over here please, men on the other side." She ordered. One of the muscle men began untying them, while the other guarded the door, his dark black eyes challenging them to try and run away. Aeliana made her way to where the lady wanted her, joined by two other girls a few years older than her and three small girls who all looked to be between the ages of eight and thirteen. Her chest tightened as she thought of Basila and Nahalda, who were the same age as these girls. Basila would be ten in a month, and Nahalda had just turned eight. What about little Cairina? Would Malich sell any of them into this horrible life too? Her eyes stung with tears at the thought of it.
"Right, you men make four lines. You'll take those bathing rooms over there. You girls will share this bath." She glanced at Aeliana. "You first." Aeliana nodded mutely and stumbled into the secluded room, too tired to protest. The bath itself was a small wooden tub, and she was grateful to see that it was still clean water. Depending on how late you got to the bath house, you could end up in water filled with dirt and bugs from previous users. Aeliana was in the middle of undressing, her back exposed, when the sliding door opened. She whipped around, holding her dress close to her. It was Mr. Danari. He had a stool. He set it in the corner and sat down, the whip in his hand. He looked at her expectantly. "Continue." He said impatiently. Aeliana bit her lip and cast her eyes down. "It isn't proper sir..." She said quietly in a dry voice. It hasn't been used in far too long, and it sounded just as cracked and as broken as she felt.
Mr. Danari laughed. "Firstly girl, I'll decide what proper. Secondly, things like propriety don't apply to me." His eyes narrowed menacingly and his grip tightened on the whip. "Continue." He ordered.
Tears threatened harder than ever now. She bit down harder on her trembling lip and turned away from Mr. Danari. Shaking with both fury and embarrassment, she slowly took off her dress. "Face me." He ordered her. Aeliana covered up her chest with her arms and turned slowly to face him, tears pricking her eyes. Mr. Danari eyed her up and down hungrily. He stood up and moved toward her, and Aeliana backed up away from him.
"Don't...don't worry." He said with effort. "I won't touch you. Can't...can't taint a slave before her master..." His eyes were wild. He reached over and touched her exposed ribs. She flinched at his touch. He ignored it. "Unfortunately," he sighed. "You're far too skinny now. You're value has gone down. I'd hoped a bath might bring back those looks of yours." He was far to close now, his eyes looking directly at her breasts and then occasionally flicking up to her mouth. With what looked like tremendous effort, Mr. Danari turned and went back to his stool. "Bathe quickly." He panted out. Aeliana crept it the bath, sinking down so that her breasts were now covered. Feeling slightly more secure, she was able to bathe using the several soaps and oils laid next to the tub. Mr. Danari's eyes never left her as he watched her scrub herself clean. Dirty old man. Aeliana growled to herself, anger overcoming her. When she'd finished, she reached for a rag that hung near the wall to dry herself. It was small, but Aeliana was able to cover what she wanted to from Mr. Danari's preying eyes. It was like he was pulled out of a spell. He grunted and cleared his throat. "Wait here. Lady Sulliclair has clothes for all of you." He stood, and Aeliana could see exactly how her bath had affected him. He left the room and Aeliana took the time to quickly dry herself so she could do so without Mr. Danari seeing. She had just wrapped the cloth around her body when he came back in, carrying a bundle of grey clothing. "Can't have you seen in that." He grunted, gesturing to the yellow dress, which was now ripped and torn and covered in mud. He handed her the dress, a simple, long sleeved thing with no sustainable features, essentially just cloth with sleeves. Aeliana pursed her lips and turned away from Mr. Danari and dropped her rag from her body. She quickly slipped the dress over her head, letting the skirt fall to her ankles. The dress hung limply on her frame, it was much too large for her skinny body. She pulled her wet hair out from under the dress's back, and turned to face her captor, who was still watching her. His eyes were on her chest, where the dress dipped down a bit to expose some flesh. Not that there was much left there to taunt a man. What Mr. Danari found appealing in her starved figure was beyond her. "Excellent." He murmured. He cleared his throat again. "Ah, yes, go outside and wait for the rest of them to finish."
"You won't watch the young girls will you?" Aeliana burst out before she could stop herself.
Mr. Danari blinked, surprised, but then a wicked grin split across his face. "That's really none of your concern girl." He replied. "Now out you go." He barked.
"I'll let you touch me." She cried. She lowered her gaze. "If...if you won't watch them...then you can...Not...not all the way...but..." She murmured.
He laughed. "Girl, that doesn't matter. I don't need you're permission of course." He laughed again. "But...I admire that...tenacity that you have." He took a step closer. "Alright." He breathed. Aeliana could smell liquor on him. He reached for her face but she backed away. "No. After they've bathed. Otherwise how can I trust you go keep your word?" She challenged. He grinned again, but there was anger in his eyes. "You're a smart one girl. Fair enough." He smirked. "It's not as if you can refuse me after."
"Perhaps I wouldn't be able to ward you off, but I could tell every buyer interested that you've already touched me. They wouldn't like that would they?" She challenged. "They wouldn't offer nearly as much would they?"
He glared at her. "Outside girl." He snapped through gritted teeth. Aeliana left the room, her head ducked. True to his word however, Mr. Danari did not view any of the other girls, not even the ones who were older than Aeliana. Eventually all the men finished bathing as well, and it was time for them to leave. Mr. Danari went to his burly boys and muttered something to them. They nodded and began escorting all the prisoners out. "Come on." He muttered to Aeliana, grabbing her elbow. He led her toward the bathing room they'd been in before, but Lady Sulliclair stopped them. "Now just a second." She snapped. "This is a bathhouse not a brothel."
"Ten minutes." Mr. Danari almost begged, handing her five gold pieces. She pursed her lips and sighed huffily, but nodded and took the coins. "Ten minutes." She agreed.
Mr. Danari practically shoved Aeliana into the room. She saw one of the older girls looking at her with pity, before he slammed the door and pounced on her.
He was disgusting. The situation was disgusting. And Aeliana was disgusted with herself. She wanted to vomit as his hands roamed her body. He hadn't come upon her fully yet, but Aeliana wondered with a sickening lurch if he would hold off much longer. There was no other way to describe it, he was ravaging her. She trembled, her fury overcoming her in such a fire she thought she might burst. Aeliana had never hated anyone in her life. But now, as she lay on the ground, completely naked, and smelled Mr. Danari's horrendous, putrid scent, she felt a loathing for him like she had never known. His thoughts might have been traveling deeper into pleasure, but all she could think about was how satisfying it would be a drive a dagger into his skull.
Suddenly there was a sharp knock at the door. Mr. Danari ignored it, but Aeliana shoved him away. "Times up." She spat, and picked up her dress. She quickly threw it over her head, and glared at Mr. Danari with a hatred that burned through her, scorching her skin. While he was distracted, trying to catch his breath, she snatched up the brown kerchief she still had. The last trace of her home. She glanced at Danari to see if he'd noticed. He was leaning over, his hand on the wall, panting heavily. The knock came again. "Just a minute." He called. He closed his eyes and took several deep breaths before taking Aeliana's elbow again and dragging her out of the room. Lady Sulliclair was still pursing her lips with disapproval when they left, but said nothing. Aeliana was tied to the rope chain like everyone else was. They would be walking the rest of the way. The girl in front of her was the same one who'd watched her with pity. As they began walking through the city, she said quietly to Aeliana, "I'm sorry. I'm so sorry."
Aeliana gritted her teeth, the anger riling up inside her again. "Don't be." She growled. "I volunteered to do it. A deal. He could have me if he promised not to watch the younger girls like he did me." She spat on the ground, trying to get the disgusting taste of his alcohol breath from her mouth. The girl glanced back at her, the same pitying eyes as before. "Oh Aeliana," the girl sighed. Aeliana blinked, surprised that she knew her name. "This is my second time being sold to this man." She continued. "Aeliana, he doesn't even like the younger girls. He wouldn't have watched them anyway."