The Social Price
Previous Story: https://forums.candarion.com/topic/1061/smug
“I should have your fucking feet skinned!” Gozdarz roared at me, and not for the first time since a crowd had gathered and brought me back to the palace demanding my punishment. They were outside now, waiting for me to be brought out as their border-lord saw fit. Everybody else had been inside for supper when they came, and Gozdarz could not help but feel humiliated at the scene unfolding in front of all his guests that one of his slaves had killed his own subject in broad daylight.
“I was defending myself, Agha.” came my voice. I knew that everyone watching would have expected me to beg for mercy as I kneeled there on the floor caked in dust and dried blood. It would have been the sensible thing to do, but I no longer cared enough. I was going to die regardless.
“Forgive him, lord. He is just a boy.” pleaded the faltering voice somewhere behind me.
“And you’re an old bitch, Kithia.” spat the border lord as he began to descend from the dais with one hand dangerously resting on the pommel of his knife. Stopping short in front of me, he knelt down on one knee and grabbed my face with his large hand. I had known no chief or anyone who claims the right to rule to stoop so low as to slaughter a common criminal themselves. But I reminded myself that Gozdarz was no haughty noble. He was a warlord, and lord to mountain-folk who had neither the time or affection for gardens or mounds. He was built like an ox, and he could cut one down just the same.
“I will take him, Mazha.” volunteered a voice into the sudden silence that had gripped the entire room. Even with Gozdarz hands firmly clenching at my jaw, I dared to turn and looked at the prince, who had suddenly stood up from a side table to address his host. I hadn’t even realised, forgotten even, that he was here. He was wearing a soft-cap with his hair bound up, disguising his distinct sandalwood-red curls underneath it. His eyes met mine, and the firmness of that hard glare momentarily softened as he looked at me, returning only when he shifted his eyes back to Gozdarz, who had also turned a puzzled look towards the prince. "Why?" Gozdarz asked.
Khoroush shrugged his shoulders, as if the answer was obvious enough for Gozdarz to know. "Mefti Dushta" he answered.
In the silence that followed, there was a sudden noise from outside as the crowd shifted and began frantically talking amongst themselves before a loud banging came at barred doors. Gozdarz looked towards the door weakly as the shrill wailing of an old woman echoed behind them before he turned to look back at the prince.
Khoroush looked at the man who had housed and welcomed him to this old remote tower-palace, begging him almost to do this one thing for him. “I can afford it. You know that.”
Gozdarz made a weak effort of a laugh at that, but relented as he pulled me up by the collar and swung me forward towards Khoroush. "You're doing nothing but guaranteeing that."
"I am confident." Khoroush agreed with a smile that matched Gozdarz tone as he came down to collect me.
"Mind that life goes on after you, my prince." the border lord said, looking back now towards the heavy double doors that no doubt awaited him. "Make sure neither I or my people see him again."
And with what seemed to be a dismissive glance, Khoroush came to my side and lead me away from the hall and into the tower through a side door.
"What did you do that for?" I confronted him in a fashion all too ungrateful to the boy that had just saved my life.
Khoroush looked at me puzzlingly as I pushed him away from me. "I was supposed to die! I was supposed to go back home!" I cried, sliding down against the wall as tears began to well up for the home and life I would never see now. It was unfair that I blame him for saving my life, and cruel that this is how I repay him after weeks of avoiding him because of some fear I had conjured in my mind. But none of that occurred to me at the time, and nothing mattered more to me than the life I had once had that ended before it ever began.
The prince sat down next to me in silence as I buried my face in my arms and knees for a long while, waiting until I had calmed down enough that he couldn't clearly hear myself sobbing into my arms. "I could kill you if you wanted, you know."
"You're such a fucking cunt." I pushed him on the shoulder but couldn't stifle the soft laugh that came between my crying.
We sat like that for a long moment, listening to the white noise of air drafting past windowsills all along the old stone tower. He draped his arms around my shoulder as I began to shiver from the sudden coldness of the room, pulling me in to rest my head on his shoulder.
"I'm sorry." he said suddenly, breaking the cold silence between the two of us. I shook my head, wanting to tell him that he had done nothing to be sorry about, that my wrongs were the fault of a scared childs overactive imagination, and because I didn't trust him.
"What did you call me?" I asked instead, pulling away from his shoulder to look at him with red puffy eyes.
"What?" he asked, though he was already trying to remember from the look of his glazed eyes.
"When Gozdarz asked why. You called me Mefti Dushta. What does it mean?" I asked, recalling the moment for him.
He gave me a wide smile then, standing up and offering his hand out to me.
"Companion" he answered.