Ky sat straight in her chair. It was the only way to keep the binder from digging into her side, and she already had small sores under her arms from wearing it for so many hours throughout the day. It’d been three days so far, and Aleth had been true to his word. Her stomach ached and a queasiness lingered in her belly from the lack of food, but she no longer felt a proper sense of hunger.
She’d worked out what the letter said in a little over an hour of trying. As it turned out, it wasn’t too terribly difficult for her to take what she remembered from spoken Lytiasian and apply what she knew about reading in the Trade Language to understand the letter. It was just a businessman from the Port City asking Aleth to help him take care of a few of Makata’s soldiers who kept stealing from his tavern without paying for their food and drink. But she was strong in her resolve to feign ignorance. She was either going to be reunited with Father, or she’d die trying.
Aleth was sitting in the corner, at his desk, working on letters of some sort. Ky sat in the same spot that she’d been at the long table, staring at the letter, mind many miles away. She wondered what the township was like now. Surely Father was a bit grayer than she’d left him. Of course, the livestock had probably already been slaughtered and replaced with the young of year. It was hard to say if Father’s pride had allowed anyone to help tend the farm to keep it from growing up, or if she’d have unwanted shrubs to dig up and burn once she got home.
Ky looked up as Tadaaki walked in and nodded at Aleth.
Aleth set his pen on the table and turned his gaze on Ky. “Are you quite certain that you don’t remember how to speak any Lytiasian, Ky?”
Ky’s eyes darted nervously towards Tadaaki, wondering what new punishment Aleth had thought up for her today. It was beginning to seem that Tadaaki’s presence would always end badly for her – and he’d been absent most of the past several days of her hunger strike.
She wet her lips, silently urging herself to stay strong in her resolve. She was so close to going home to Father. All she had to do was out-stubborn Aleth, and he’d realize that she would be a useless assistant to him and let her go home. “Quite.”
“I thought that may be the case,” Aleth answered, standing up and gesturing towards her. “Let’s go.”
“Go where?” Ky questioned.
“Shut up,” Aleth answered crisply.
Tadaaki stepped nearer to Ky and grabbed her arm. She reluctantly stood and allowed him to lead her after Aleth, into the hall, a few steps nearer the front of the house, towards the sitting room where Aleth entertained visitors.
“I called for someone who might help you remember,” Aleth said.
Ky eyed the back of his head uneasily, apprehension growing in the pit of her hollow stomach. Aleth pushed the door open, revealing a large room with many cushioned chairs. Her gaze settled on the large man sitting on the couch in the center of the room before she noticed anything else about the room.
The man was large and burly, with clearly defined muscles bulging under his too-tight tunic. He had a black hood over his head and his hands were tied in front of his body. A rough looking man stood behind the couch; dagger pressed against the man’s neck. Ky looked at them for a moment before turning her gaze back on Aleth.
Aleth crossed the room and dumped a few coins into the armed man’s hand. “Thank you, you may go.”
The man nodded to him and quickly took his leave. Aleth waited until the door closed behind him to turn his attention back on Ky. “Do you know this man?”
Ky’s eyes traveled back towards the man as Aleth jerked the hood off his face. Her heart stopped as she locked eyes with Mr. Myrond. He was grayer than the last time she’d seen him and his face was more creased with age, but it was unmistakably her dear friend.
“Well?” Aleth asked, untying the gag in Myrond’s mouth.
Ky tried to wet her lips, only to discover that her mouth was just as dry. “No.”
“See, I believe that about as much as I believe that you don’t speak Lytiasian.”
“You mean you believe two true things?” Ky questioned, lifting her chin a bit as she refused to back down from his challenge.
“I grow weary of your antics,” Aleth hissed, yanking the gag the rest of the way out of Myrond’s mouth in a swift motion.
“Where am I?” Myrond demanded in Lytiasian. His voice was hoarse and wheezy. “Who are you? Why am I here?”
“Sounds like he has a lot of questions,” Aleth said.
Ky ripped her gaze off Myrond and forced herself to meet Aleth’s challenging glare.
“It’s too bad you’re not able to speak with him,” Aleth continued.
Ky swallowed hard. Everything within her wanted to run to Myrond and throw her arms around him in a tight hug and never let go. She wanted to demand updates about Father, and the farm, and the township. She took a deep breath, forcing her expression to stay neutral. It was best for everyone if Aleth didn’t know the depth of her affections for Mr. Myrond.
“Sit,” Aleth ordered crisply, gesturing at the couch across from where Mr. Myrond sat.
Tadaaki gave her a slight shove towards the couch. Ky resentfully sat on the edge of the cushion, decidedly refusing to look back at Mr. Myrond. Aleth gestured carelessly at Myrond, and Tadaaki stepped forward to wrestle him onto his knees in front of Aleth.
“Do you know my assistant?” Aleth asked, eyes locked on Myrond.
Ky watched in a horrified silence, entire body tense.
“Answer me!” Aleth bellowed.
Myrond looked at him quizzically, eyebrows drawn, then slowly answered in the Trade Language. “I… speak this… language… unwell.”
“Are you sure you can’t translate for us?” Aleth asked, turning his gaze on Ky.
“I still can’t speak Lytiasian.”
“Do you know my assistant?” Aleth asked, raising his voice at Myrond.
“Please… may you… speak in the… language of Lytias?”
“No,” Aleth hissed. “You’ll speak in the Trade Language, and you’ll answer my questions!”
Myrond looked at him quizzically.
“Tadaaki, bare his back.”
Ky sprang to her feet before she could stop the impulse.
Aleth raised an eyebrow. “Change your mind?”
Ky’s eyes flicked down to where Myrond knelt, then back up to Aleth. Her chest was tight. Thoughts raced across her mind and then disappeared before she even had the chance to consider them. She swallowed hard, desperately trying to think of a way to fix this situation.
“No? Alright.” Aleth swiftly walked to the chest just under the window, bent, and stood again holding a long whip. Tadaaki wrestled with Myrond until he had his tunic pulled over his head, exposing his back and broad shoulders. “Well, since he won’t answer my questions, he must pay for his disrespect.”
“He can’t understand you,” Ky protested, walking forward.
“How am I to know that?”
“He said he can’t speak the Trade Language.”
“I mean, that’s what he says,” Aleth said, shrugging carelessly as he rolled up his right sleeve. “And you say you can’t speak Lytiasian. I suppose I’ll just have to beat him until one of you changes your mind and answers me truthfully.”
Ky’s palms were sweaty. “Don’t do this.”
“I’d love to not have to do this,” Aleth answered, letting the tails of his whip fall as he flicked his wrist, reading the punishment.
“Please stop,” Ky pleaded, chest tight with fear.
“What do you care?” Aleth question, squaring up behind Myrond to take his aim. “You don’t even know him.”
Ky wet her lips, mind spinning in an attempt to talk Myrond out of this mess without blowing her own cover. Aleth pulled his arm back, reading the blow. She saw his arm moving forward, and leapt between him and Myrond without another thought. She threw her arms out, covering as much of Myrond’s back as she could with her own body.
The tails of the whip cracked across her back loudly, stinging her shoulder as they curled around her body and sliced through the areas not covered by the binder. She grunted as the whip burned like fire against her skin.
The silence that followed was deafening.
“Well isn’t that interesting?” Aleth said condescendingly.
Ky closed her eyes, frustrated. She couldn’t let Mr. Myrond take a beating for her falsehood. Father would never forgive her if he knew she let their dear family friend get flogged for her selfish desire to return to the farm.
“Stand up,” Aleth ordered coldly.
Ky picked herself up off the ground, face burning with embarrassment and frustration, shoulders stinging. She turned to face Aleth.
Ky hesitated, looking at him fearfully. The binder had blocked the worst of the blow, but from the way her shoulders still stung, she didn’t want to know what it felt like to have the full brunt of Aleth’s anger.
“NOW!” Aleth bellowed, taking a threatening step towards Ky.
She stumbled backward, instantly lifting the bottom of her tunic and yanking it off over her head. She fumbled with the hooks under her right arm. “I know him.”
“Obviously,” Aleth answered, rolling his eyes.
Ky unzipped the zipper on the front of the binder and began working at the lacing, chest getting tighter with each passing moment, despite the loosening of the binding. She swallowed hard, heart racing as she looked at the rage filling Aleth’s eyes.
“You will either take a beating willingly, without having to be restrained, or you will watch as I beat your friend to death.”
“What’s happening?” Myrond demanded in Lytiasian. “Why am I here? What are you doing?”
“Sounds like your friend has questions,” Aleth said. “Answer him.”
Ky took a deep breath, wondering what she could even say.
“What’s going on?” Myrond questioned.
“I am to…” Ky trailed off, the guttural feeling of her mother tongue coarse and unfamiliar in her throat after all these years.
“Before I get angrier…” Aleth said testily.
Ky swallowed hard, looking down at Myrond as she undid the final clasps on her binder. “I am preparing to be whipped.”
“Why?” Myrond asked.
“Because I was caught in a falsehood.” Ky sighed. “And now either I can take a beating, or you will die for it.”
“Why would take a beating for me?”
“Because I care for you.”
“All the way off,” Aleth ordered. “Your back is the only thing I want getting destroyed in this process.”
A shiver ran down Ky’s spine, but she did as she was told, setting it down on the nearby couch. Her face flushed with shame at Tadaaki and Aleth’s gazes on her bared body once more.
“Why do you care for me?” Myrond questioned.
“Because you called me friend, in a past life.”
“Who are you?”
“Take your belt off,” Aleth ordered, interrupting.
Ky quickly did as she was ordered, ignoring Myrond’s question.
“Give it here.”
Ky handed her belt over to Aleth. Her eyebrows knit together in confusion as Aleth laid the whip down and instead readied the belt.
“You’re a bleeder,” Aleth said. “I can’t have you passing out from blood loss before I’m ready for that to happen. Lay across his back.”
Ky swallowed hard again and set her jaw, then knelt behind Myrond, cringing as her chest met his bare back.
Myrond gasped. “You’re a woman!”
“In a past life I was,” Ky murmured, stretching her arms across Myrond’s.
She yelped as the belt came down across her back. Myrond tensed under her as she dug her fingernails into his arms as she writhed in pain. She forced her fingers to relax. “Sorry, Mr. Myrond.”
“Ky?” Myrond sounded shocked. “Kylia, is that you?”