The resounding claxon ended even as Kaj rushed into the downstairs hall, where there were seven men surrounded by a sea of guardswomen. "What has gone on here?" She demanded.
One of the guardswomen, obviously the leader of her squad, "a raid, Chieftess." She motioned to the seven men standing there. "Some one sounded the raid alarm. We caught them sneaking into the girls dorm."
Kaj's face darkened. "Raid?" She looked up to the men standing there. "Who is in charge here?"
A single man pushing himself away from the rest, that were, trying to hide him. Limping from a wound in his leg. He had never believed that, he, could ever be beaten by a woman but he had and was. "I am in charge here."
"You name, and rank, and what do you think you were doing, in my girls dorm?" She knew from what city he and those with him came from. But that didn't make any sense, the Merican's were at peace with her people. Had been so since her great, great grandmother's time, over five hundred cycles ago.
The soldier looked her square in the face. "Jerrick, I am the Commander of these men," before he could finish there was a sound behind Kaj.
"Chieftess," a soft voice, as one of the older guardswomen drew her attention.
Kaj turned to look, ready to snap at who ever it was that was bothering her, now, of all times. But the sight in the woman's arms silenced her. "No." She couldn't believe what she was seeing. "Remmy?"
"The boy had snuck out to visit one of his older friends. It was he that caught the raiders and with his last breath, sounded the alarm." The guardswoman gently turned the body in her arms over, displaying the place where the knife had cut between his shoulders. "Your boy, wasn't even allowed to face his killer. The coward cut him down with a knife in his back."
Kaj spun around to demand to know who had killed her son, but was caught off guard as the same man that she had been questioning was already making demands of the men. "Who did it, come on you worthless dog, which one of you makes war with children?" He was livid. "We came here to steal children, not to kill them." Their mission was doomed, there was no way he or any of them could ever undo what a careless knife throw had cost. But, other than equally angry noises, there was no response. Jerrick turned back to Kaj. "If you will show me the blade Chieftess, I will give you your killer."
The guardswoman that held the body shook her head. "If it were only that simple, man. The coward, he must have known it was proof against him, and pulled it from the child even as the boy lay dying."
Kaj moaned in pain, hiding her face in her hands, fighting for control. Her son was dead. Her sweet baby had been taken from her. "Very well." She turned, eyes normally the color of forest moss, were cold. "I will know who threw that knife. Even if I have to have each and every one of you tortured to death to find him. 'I will know who killed my son'."
The first man, that she had questioned, Jerrick stepped forward yet again, stopping at the raised swords around him. "They are my men, Chieftess. A life is owed you. Even though I, didn't, kill your son, one of my men did. . That makes me responsible. If you mean to see someone die for his death, I am ready to pay for our crimes. All I ask, is let my death spare my men." He had been against this raid from the start. Had only agreed to lead it because he understood what was really at stake here, and why it had to be done. So like it or not, he had taken this command. He also knew that so far, to the man, his men hadn't approved of it any more than he had, and were here much for the same reason as he. If it had to be done, best it is done right.
Kaj glared at him. "You are either a very brave man, or a very foolish one. There will be no mercy. I will have the man that killed my son."
"Chieftess," a soft whisper like voice seemed to float above the noise in the hall.
Kaj turned towards the sound of the voice. To see a tiny woman, dressed in a black robe and headdress standing at the end of the hall. "Mother, Kaylin." She nodded her head towards the Priestess.
"I grieve for you in your loss." She moved, with a walk to smooth that it almost appeared as she was floating.
"One of these 'men' killed my son Kaylin. I will know who it is. I don't care if I have to slaughter them all. I will see that my son's killer dies."
She smiled at her chieftess, and oldest friend, sadly. "If you will only allow me to question them. I will give you the killer of your son. Or does his life call that they all die?"
Kaj fought down the rage. Her son was dead. One of them had killed her son. But wrong as they were, only one actually threw the knife. "No, if the Temple is willing to help me with this, I would be a fool to refuse your help." She stepped back. Looking to the guards around her. "Keep an eye on them. One of them flinches, kill them all."
Jerrick looked at the little woman. "Go ahead, witch, do your worse. I've got nothing to hide. I don't make war on children." He didn't close his eyes, or look down as she touched his face. He had not killed in over half a cycle, and never a child.
She smiled at him. "No, I don't suppose you would." Then to Kaj, "there is much more to this than you know. His people are more desperate than we are."
Kaj snorted. "Right now, I don't care. Find me the one that threw the knife. Later we can talk about the 'why' of it all. I want the man that killed my son."
The Priestess nodded, moving to the next man. "You have nothing to fear from me, if you are innocent, there will be no pain."
Again and again, Kaylin touched and judged the men innocent. It was the fifth that backed away as she stepped forward to test him. Trying to get away from her, but his own men grabbed him and held him fast. "So, you would see that your brethren died in a mad attempt to hide your guilt." She turned to Kaj. "This is your murderer. Shall I force him to admit to the crime, or is my word as the voice of The Mother enough?"
"For me, Mother yes, always. But I have to hear him say it. When I meet my son's father's eyes, I want to say that 'yes' I heard it from the monster's lips."
The man struggled harder as Kaylin neared again. Fighting to win free of the hands that held him in place. But the hands only tightened their grip on his arms, rendering him helpless. "Please, Jerrick, Sir, I didn't mean to, the kid, he was there, he shouldn't have been, and when he saw me. I had to stop him from making any noise. I don't know what happened after that. I don't remember throwing the knife. One minute he was running, and the next. Please, Sir, I don't remember what happened. Don't let her touch me. She'll eat my soul."
The Priestess turned to look at Kaj. "He admits his guilt, freely. I never touched him."
"Mistress?" A soft, pain filled voice.
Kaj looked up to where Caytin stood, he had taken his son from the guard. "My son is dead." She nodded. "Then, as your Head Consort, and Master of the men in your home, I demand my right as a man of you home to see he pay." He choked back a sob. "I demand 'A Man's Justice'."
"Take our son, there are things that only the men can do. He was one of you. I will see to it that the dog is brought to you. The men of my house, he owes you all much. Remmy was not only male, but was also one of a rapidly dwindling number. He was fertile. And he was my son." Her baby was dead. The last of the male children she had given birth to. Her darling pride, he was dead.
Like those in her place before, she pushed her pain back to do her duty as chieftess and lady of her house. "I hear your confession, and I judge you guilty. My own Consort has claimed Men's Justice. You killed not only my son, but also all the children that would come from him and further generations from his seed. Remmy was one of the few remaining fertile men of my city. I sentence you to death at the hands of the fertile men of my home." And she turned her back on him. "Take him to the Men's Quarters."
Two, guardswomen took the man from the ones that had held him during his confession. "No," he struggled. "Kill me, anything but, 'not' , that."
A third guard stepped up, and backhanded him with her first, snapping his head back, silencing his voice with the blow. "Be quiet."
"Should I see them escorted to his execution?" The guardswomen that had silenced the criminal looked to her chieftess.
Kaj smile weakly. "Wren, I think you have seen to it that he won't give anyone problems in the near future. Your guards are more than capable to dealing with one, puny half-starved unconscious slave. If not then you are, not near the commander that you were when I was in the guard."
The woman laughed, in respect for the loss that had occurred it was soft. "Trust me Kaj, if anything, I have gotten worse in my old age." She looked back to where the other six stood. "And what do you have planned for these? They didn't kill your boy. So, your men can not cry justice from them. But they still were caught trying to kidnap our children."
She hadn't been thinking of that. Now that her son's killer was taken care of, she would still have to see to the rest before she could go and share her pain with her mate. "So, Wren, what do you think we should do with them?"
"Before you answer that guardswoman. Chieftess, again, will you hear me?"
"Kaylin, how long have we known each other? Our mothers suckled us together. Of course I will hear you."
"Then stop for a moment before you pass judgement on these men. They were captured attacking your home. They are your rightful prisoner's. Four of the six that stand before you are fertile. Can you not find a better use for their blood and life than just to see it spilt?"
'Fertile' the promise of new fertile blood. It sparked her. "Which of them are fertile, and which are just 'bedwarmers'?
"Those two, there they are not only old, but worthless."
"And the other four? Are you telling me, that I now own four, some what healthy, 'fertile' men?"
"By law. It was your house that they raided. It was your son that now sleeps with The Mother. So to you, goes their lives, and either the end or continuation of them." Then she raised one slim finger. "But you might want to consider that there is one pair among them. They might, with their submission be saved from death. But two of them, at least, could be made to know loss. Take pity on your Consort. It is going to be difficult enough for him, with the loss he has just had, to deal with seeing to it that two, maybe three are welcomed in properly. Spare him a forth."
Kaj nodded. "And which two are you talking about?"
The priestess pointed to another two men, one that held another with desperate fear. "I know you aren't quite as sensitive as your man is, but I am surprised that you didn't feel them. That one," she indicated the younger man, who was the one that clung to the older man. "Screams his love and his fear of losing it."
Kaj looked the man, who was holding up the younger one up. "How long has he been your Lover?"
"For the last six and a half cycles Ma'am." His arm tightened around the younger man protectively.
Kaj raised an eyebrow. "Six and a half cycles? He must have been near a child when you took him as yours."
"He was fourteen, Ma'am. I was part of the raid that rescued him from the Catimine's. He had been their slave for many cycles, Ma'am."
He had been a slave before. Kaj hadn't counted on that. "Mother, could you come and help me to see into his heart? I would know if it is a true love match, or if he is only toying with the boy."
The younger man fought to keep from being pulled away from his love. "Mer," there were tears in his eyes.
"It's going to be okay, Fain. Just be still, don't make them have to hurt you." The elder man, reaching out, trying to touch Fain's cheek, but he was pulled out of his reach.
Kaj nodded to the priestess. "Now, listen to me 'man'. The voice of The Mother is right. I do not need to load my man down with more than three new slaves. The boy who stands, there looking like I am about to kill you, he obviously loves you. Are the feelings returned? Should I see to it that after I send you to another woman's house that my Consort will work with the Consort of the woman who I am entrusting you to and see to it that you and he see each other? He is far too emotional for it to be him that is sent out." She looked to the frightened man with pity. "The voice of The Mother had a valid point. Someone should understand at least a little of the loss I feel now. But, I will not forbid the two of you from seeing each other. So tell me, now, with the Priestess present to know if you are hiding anything. What do you feel for him?"
"I don't need your witch to make me tell you the truth. I saved him when he was fourteen cycles old. He has been with me for the last six. If I had had my way, he wouldn't be here right now. I didn't want him to come. And if he wasn't such a fine solder, all in all, I would keep him at home as my boy." He rambled off what he thought and felt. He did not want the woman to touch him. He had been touched once already, and the memory of that touch would be with him for the rest of his life, however long or short it would be.
"I will send you to Aticka's house. It is just s stones throw from my back yard. You won't be forbade seeing him. But you will go."
The younger man broke away from the hands that were holding him back, to grab his lover. "No, you can't." His fingers dug into the fabric of the man's shirt.
"Fain!" The older man grabbed him, forcing him to look at him. "Stop it. There is nothing we can do. We knew the risk when we came here. Now shut up, before they kill you." He held him close. "I love you, never forget that. But if you fight, you've been a slave before, you know what will happen."
"We do not kill our men." Kaj lay a hand on Fain's shoulder. "Listen to me. Your love, he will be living close. You could stand in the middle of my back yard and throw a stone and it land in hers. He is gone, but not forever. I will see to it that Caytin takes you and that he and Aticka's head consort Brom set up times for the two of you to be together. We are not like your people, and certainly, not, like the Catimine's. Love in any form is sacred here." Maybe it was the fact that the killer of her son had been dealt with, but her heart went out a little to this poor frightened man. He was no more soldier material than one of the young bedwarmers in the Men's Quarters. "You will find slavery here, vastly different from what you had come to know it to be. Though your crimes earn death, your fertility has given you clemency. We do not kill fertile men here, for less than murder. You will be treated as a member of my house, kindly and with patience as you learn your new way. I will not have you abused."
"Come on Fain, you heard her. Mer's right, we knew the risks." Jerrick pulled the younger man away.
Two of the guardswomen stood at Mer's sides. "Anything else you want us to pass along Chieftess?" One of them requested.
"Only that he is my rightful prisoner, and I give him to her to enrich her home with. And tell her that I think I have found a way to do more than just enrich her house alone."
The guard nodded curtly as she and her partner turned and led Mer from the room.
"Steady their, soldier." Jerrick hissed in Fain's ear. "What do we know of the Dane's? Has there ever been a report, or even the hint of a rumor that they abuse their slaves?" He waited a moment before shaking Fain. "I might not be your commander for much longer, but I still am right now. Answer me, soldier."
Fain snapped out of the haze of loss that he was trapped in. "No, Sir. All reports that we have ever seen that I know of report that for the most part. The Dane's are a peaceful people, and their men are content in their chains.
"We are at peace with them. Their people are at peace with ours. Do you believe if they were like the Catimine's we would be at peace with them?"
"Give the man credit. He might be a lot of things, but unfit to lead is not one of them." Wren looked at her. "Do you still need me and my women Chieftess? If I left four here to help see to them, can I dismiss the others?"
"I know that this raid brought most of you up from a sound sleep. So yes, go back to what you were doing before this happened."
"I will be at your sons pyre. I'll bring him one of my carved horses. You know how much he loved them."
"May, The Mother always smile on you and all that you do, my friend."
The guards were quickly dismissed. The four that she had left with the chieftess pulled in even closer. Eyes critical of every move the men made.
"Have you convinced the boy of his safety yet?" Kaj stood before Jerrick.
"I don't know how much he is listening to me. He was very young when he was first taken and not even six cycles has undone the damage his first chaining did him."
"You are taking your capture very well. All that I know of your people leads me to expect resistance of your new life. Why is that?"
"I knew what the risks were when I accepted this job. We all did. But we also couldn't see any other way."
"You were trying to steal our daughters. Had you been successful, we would have hunted you down to the very ends of the world to save them and bring you to justice. If you know anything of us, you knew that. Why were you willing to risk certain death to steal our children?"
"We are losing, have lost the war with the Catimine's. We are dying. Our enemy poisoned our water, and through that our food. We are still giving birth, but an increasing number of the time the children are either useless, or monster's. We need new blood. Without it, we are doomed." He straightened a little more. "For my King, my people, for our very lives, I mean nothing. I would be willing to lay down my life, or bend anyway I am ordered for my world."
Kaj chuckled. "My, my, I think I am going to have to keep a close eye on you. For one who was not raised as one of my men. You display remarkable honor." She stepped back. "Go stand by the boy. I have one more to meet. If the three of you are to belong to me, then I really should see what I am bringing in to the women of my home."
The last of the fertile men stood there looking at her a little wild-eyed. "So, you are the last of the three. And your name is?"
"Ern." He tried to hold his footing as she neared. But it wasn't easy. He wasn't stupid. He knew what being a slave meant for him.
"Greetings Ern. If you would stand with the other two, I will deal with the three of you soon enough. Let me see to it that the two others, the one's that we have no use for, takes a message back to your King."
Ern said not the first word, only moved as quickly as what was left of his dignity could muster.
"The two of you." Kaj addressed the two others the ones that were not wanted. "I return your life and freedom to you, but you must take a message to that fool of a King of yours. Consider it payment for your life. You will tell him what happened here this night, and that the remaining four are now mine, and he is to present one half of the young, and reasonably healthy men of his Kingdom. One half of the men between the ages of fifteen and thirty-five to come and serve as my city's slaves, as payment for my son's life and his audacity for trying to rip our children from us."
"That's insane." Jerrick snapped as he struggled to come forward, but the swords held him back. "King Thalin will never agree to that."
The blow she delivered knocked him to the floor, his head striking the tiled floor. His memory chose that time to remind him that the Dane's were much stronger than his people were. And the women even more so.
"Remember who it is you speak to 'slave'. He will either obey me, or at the rising of the sun," she looked up through one of the small windows along the wall it was still very late. "With the setting of the sun on the third whole moon from now, I will lead my warrior's against your people, and kill ever man and woman over the age of fifteen."
"We can't afford to loose that many men. We are already short of protection from our enemies as is. If you force Thalin to submit half our men to chains, there will be none left and the Catimine's will walk over us with no effort."
Kaj nodded. "Your King should have thought of that, when he sent you to steal our daughters and nieces. But you are right. You four now belong to me and the men that will come, as well, if by doing this, I leave a Kingdom defenseless I will see it protected. Your King should have sought my help before now. I knew you were at war with our other neighbor, but not that it had taken the turn that it had. I would have honored the treaty we have with your Kingdom."
"I don't think my King has trusted anyone other than just a very few advisors for a long time Chieftess. Can you honestly tell me, your aid would not come with a price?"
"No, had he come to me, I would have helped him, helped you all, for the price of three cycles per man. I would not have seen to it that your bondage was lifetime. But he never gave me the chance to offer."
"Anything else you want us to tell the King, Chieftess?" They were both ready to get out.
"Only this. If he does, indeed, shows wisdom and agrees to my demands. I have an entire prison, with women who are there for crimes that were enough to imprison them, but not enough to enslave them. Non violent prisoners who I will send back with him, for the time of their sentence. The new blood that you were here to steal, to help save your people." Her tone darkened. "You fail me in this, and I swear this to you. It will be on you that I spend the rest of my life tracking you down. And you can believe this. I will run you down and kill you where you stand. Do you understand me?"
They both mumbled under their breath nodding. "I asked, did you understand me?" She barked at them.
"Yes Ma'am, Chieftess." They were fast to respond.
"Thank you Priestess Kaylin for your help and council. I think I can take it from here. And if all goes well, you might be back here in eleven moons or so to bless the new life that their being here promises."
"I will reach for your son, and see that he goes on peacefully."
"Make sure he knows how much his father and I love him."
She nodded. "That goes without saying." They hugged.
Kaj watched her move down the hall for a moment before turning back to the matter at hand. "Feed them, tend their wounds, and give them fresh houses. Then escort them out of our territory in the direction of the Kingdom of Merican." Then to the other two guards. "See to it that these three see a Healer and are fed and dressed." She moved away. "I have a child to wish farewell."