Sword of the Saints: Sinner Chapter Twenty-Three

“You probably think you were very clever,” began Gul Ladal, arms crossed in a father’s disapproval while leaning gently against the standing sandalwood cabinet.  “The Lady Rina is undoubtedly defiling her own person as we speak.  I could smell it on her in the streets, and I doubt passing strangers went utterly oblivious either.  You still have no idea what you’ve gotten yourself into, the danger this presents, both to your person and House Barsica at large.  I’m not trying to threaten you when I say this.  But you have to understand that this is a dangerous place and that I’m the only friendly face you’re going to see, Rina included.”

“Why would I be precious to you?”

“I could say that it’s because ‘It’s my job.’”

“But?”

“Frankly, I don’t want to explain.”

“You know, I could begin,” Arius turned, slow and shivering drawing the dusty garments from his spasmodic form, “by pointing out that this is no business of mine, that I never asked to be stolen, never asked to be a slave, that only by the fear of foreign death do I consign myself to utterly sleepless nights with a woman I could never love.  I’m just trying to survive.”

“I don’t think even you believe that.”

Arius smiled in return, at last exposing the heavily scarred fore and rear of his upper torso as he gently slipped into the acrid bath abounding in little bubbles.

“Heavens above,” Gul Ladal exclaimed in disgust, drawing his lips wide as if evidencing the precise handiwork of an experienced serial killer, “where in the hells did you get that?”

Dragging the dull excretion of lye and tallow across his suddenly fragile frame, he mostly smiled, saying only, “The punishment for failure is generally simple.”

“And you call us ‘animals.’”

“It’s often that the difference between life in death lies not in the mind but rather in the muscle.  You don’t think.  You react.  Pain is a more glorious teacher than a chalk-board, and god knows there’s no shortage of sinners to be dispatched at the end of a shining point.”  He paused, moving the bubbles about playfully in his hands.  “My family’s been in the legion since the very beginning.  We all were once, but eventually the demands proved too much for many, and they fell to the mundane.”

“Says a liar, a gambler, and a cheat, who’s had more women—I have no doubt—than I’ve had warm meals.”

“True, true,” he replied, yawning his tired frame to rest the nape of his neck on the lip of the washing basin.  “Began when I was young; had my first prostitute when I was thirteen.  My first sexual experience was somewhat earlier than that.  Didn’t know enough to say ‘no,’ and she seemed so pretty, at least that’s what she told me.”

“And I thought my life was unusual.  Mysterious how such as you can remain so sacred, at least in someone’s reckoning.”

“Moral caliber has nothing to do with it, moral caliber as at least people understand it.  As long as I do the legion’s work, I could despoil whole cities of their women and still linger in the unlikely running of a saint.  Those things don’t matter.  I’m not a hero, I’m a jailer, and that’s something the rest of the world has never understood.”

“I don’t know what to make of you.”

“Well what do you make of dinner?”

“You’re going to ruffle a lot of feathers.  You’ll be the only human there, in fact.  The males and females eat segregated, but they sit opposite each other.  Of course you’ll sit opposite the Lady Rina, who will undoubtedly chew your ear off, anything to prevent herself from raping you on the spot and ruining her good family name.  She’ll want to sing your praises and discuss the little victories of the day.  She’ll want to show off her prize.  Meanwhile, her mother’s going to be sweating bullets at the implications of all of it.  Better to leave her to her ruminations with the Ag Zakazi, who probably won’t stand to even look at you.”

“No no, I meant what are we having for dinner?”

“I’m glad it was you that killed the slaver that took you.  I would have done it more slowly.”