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Many days later, Alyssa stood defiantly on the auction platform. The coarse slave robe they'd forced her to wear, instead of her softer garments, gave some protection from the fierce rays of the sun. Nothing could stop the dry heat that sucked the moisture out of everything.
As if to mock her, cold, pure water flowed in hidden channels miles below her feet–life-giving liquid her special gift detected.
Heavy chains fastened to her iron handcuffs were attached to the long fetters linking all the slaves on the platform. The skin on her wrists had been rubbed raw from the friction of metal. Her shoulders and arms ached with the weight of the bonds. At least they'd removed her leg irons before herding her onto the platform.
Two brilliant red and brown rapto-dragosaurs, each with its handler, crouched at both ends, ready to prevent escape. Alyssa's upper leg throbbed from two rows of puncture wounds where, three nights earlier, a sentry's rapto had pulled her to the ground when she'd stumbled while carrying water from a stream near the camp.
Men crowded close to the rough stage, reaching toward her and the other women captives on display. As Princess of Oceanus, she'd been protected by her people's respect for her father, King Tristan. In this place, she was a lowly slave subject to the cruel whims of anyone with the dirhems for her purchase.
Alyssa heard the guarding raptos whip their scaly tails across the wood while they hissed and growled in warning.
The chief slaver, Scarface, beat back the men, roaring, "Get yer nose-pickin' hands off the merchandise. You want to touch? Pay, first."
Some shuffled backwith a curse. Others shouted insults, but kept a wary eye on the slaver's club.
Alyssa stared over their heads, ignoring their crude comments. After days of being slapped, shoved, lashed, and forced to march in the heat of the desert, this auction was just one more horror to survive. And survive, she would–her sole purpose was to escape–to return to her land and her people.
At the recollection of the attack on Tamary and its women and children, despair welled up choking her. Had Lani and the boys reached Fernhaven safely? Had any others slipped away from the slavers? Her heart squeezed at the memory of those last chaotic moments as she'd fought with the branch until it broke. Then she'd continued to attack with her fingernails, feet, and teeth until someone had clubbed her into unconsciousness.
She shook off the memories before they could weaken her resolve.
Beside her, Carmen, barely into womanhood, was pulled out of the line and shoved to the front of the platform.
Alyssa, helpless to do anything for the young high-plains woman, looked out across the people–farmers in homespun clothes, fierce looking jungle tribesmen wearing animal skins and feathers, and other slave traders, each with his trademark whip.
While Scarface extolled the advantages and delights of possessing a female slave, Alyssa yearned for the freedom to go anywhere she chose, like the band of wandering traders across the square.
There, men, women, and children wearing clothing woven and dyed in bright colors and ornamented with rich embroidery, had tethered their horse-drawn house wagons in a section away from the slave market. After sweeping the paving blocks around their space, they'd spread bright rugs and heaped them with merchandise.
The industrious group had made their part of the ancient square clean and inviting to potential customers.
Closer to where she stood, horse and cattle dung baked in the sun. The odors of rotten food and the sharp sweat of unbathed men, with its undertone of sexual arousal, battered at her senses.
She'd grown up at the edge of the Great Ocean, had played on its surface, dove into its cool, welcoming depths, and had tasted the sweet winds born in distant places on the planet, Traber. Places she'd yearned to see–but not in chains.
My dream has become a waking nightmare, she thought bleakly. Like Carmen, she was a prisoner of ruthless men and soon to be sold into slavery.
To distract herself from the helpless anger she felt as the bids for Carmen rose, Alyssa once more looked out across the crowd to the eastern gate. Its massive, brassbound, wooden plank doors stood open, a silent promise of freedom.
At that moment, a desert rider, all in black, his face, except for his eyes, hidden by a lisam rode past those doors and across the square. His mount's coat, black as precious mother-of-the-deep shell, shimmered in the sun.
Halting near one of the traders, he dismounted with fluid ease and gestured to an older boy to hold the reins, passing a coin to him that brought a wide smile.
He strolled past the displays, quickly choosing dried fruits, spices, and tea. His every movement showed a quiet confidence.
After securing his purchases in woven saddle bags draped on both sides of the unusual padded flat saddle, he looked in the direction of the slave market.
Alyssa's heart skipped.
She heard the bidding on Carmen continue, but her attention was on the fascinating man. Would he come to Carmen's rescue–or hers?
Copyright © 2004 by Barbara Clark.
Posted July 5, 2005
When Rahim Al Sayyed, Sultan of Aradi, sees the flame-haired Alyssa Palonui standing in chains on the slaver's block, he makes the highest bid, telling himself it's to save her from the vicious owner of a brothel. Rahim doesn't know she's a princess of Oceanus and betrothed to his deadly enemy¿the one who caused his father's death. As they journey across planet Traber, into the enemy's stronghold, and the cave of night flying dragons, Alyssa and Rahim explore growing paranormal gifts and the deep, dark passions hidden in each other's heart, mind, and soul.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.