The larger guard gleamed with glee as he yanked her out of her cell. His hands were so huge that they easily encircled the entire circumference of her arm. She was marched, but mostly dragged out of the dank prison.
As they went, she observed row after row of cells, seemingly endless in number were it not for the door she knew they were headed to.
Every single one of the cells were full. None had enough light to actually see the person in there. They were outlines of thin human forms with hungry, desolate eyes that never left her while she walked.
The guard she had verbally sparred with had left her with his two heavies. She had no idea what he'd meant by "see to it she loses the attitude” but she had a good feeling it would involve some form of physical punishment. In the depths of the nights since she'd woken up in her cell, she'd heard plenty of men come back weeping.
But she was no stranger to punishment. She’d received plenty in her lifetime at the hands of the Tiger Lord, his brother and all of her trainers. Each had their favourite method of lesson-teaching.
Some demonstrated. Some liked to direct. And some liked to negatively reinforce. The Tiger Lord’s brother had made sure his lessons were literally imprinted on your skin.
In one session of sword training with him, she’d been suffering from heavy feet. Aaron, whom she regularly got partnered with, had crudely taken advantage of her clumsiness. In one move he’d disarmed her and thrown her to floor. The Tiger Lord’s brother had wanted to ensure her feet were never heavy again. So he created a walkway of hot, steaming coals, and made her walk across the entire length barefoot.
Light steps were required. Otherwise the result would be charred, unworkable flesh. The blisters on her blisters had proven that, formed after her first three failed attempts. Each time she stumbled, the Tiger Lord’s brother ordered her to start again. With no recovery time in-between tries.
The scars on the soles of her feet served as a reminder to step lightly. Since then she’d been as quiet as a mouse, with feline grace.
The giant guard yanked her up a set of stairs that emerged at the edge of the prison level darkness. At the top of those stairs there was an iron gate that they hadn’t bothered to shut. Why? she wondered. Were they that certain no one could, or rather would escape?
When they breeched the surface the assaulting light left her eyes stinging. Stars danced around her vision until she blinked them away and they refocused. It wasn't a huge volume of light in truth, but contrasted with the blackness below, it was like someone had stolen summer and stashed it in the room.
They were in long corridor.
The walls were covered in moss and water dripped from the ceiling, splashing into already formed puddles on the floor. Arianna had gotten used to wet feet down in her cell so it didn't bother her so much that her feet squelched as they marched through the corridor.
The other guard who had been trailing behind them until now, opened up an off shooting door. Arianna was thrown into the room. Inside, the was room bare. Bare, except for the blood and other dark coloured stains that covered the floor and the walls.
Arianna felt bile rise to her throat.
"If you know what's good for you, I suggest you leave me be," she warned them.
The giant guard howled with laughter, the sound echoing loudly in the space small. He was so giant that he filled much of the room, leaving Arianna and the other much skinnier guard barely enough room to breathe.
When Arianna met the guard’s eyes they were alight with desire. She knew that look, had seen it enter many men’s eyes in her lifetime. The thought of the terror he was going to create and the pain he was going to cause was exciting him immensely. Which made Arianna want to smash his sadistic face in even more.
Before she could make a move though he kicked her with his massive foot, sending her sliding backwards across the floor. She choked as her lungs were crushed by the force of the kick.
He laughed again. This time the laugh was one of delight.
The other guard was staying close to the door. Which was unlocked. they weren’t good at covering potential points of exit. Their arrogance might be justified, but it could also be proved as their undoing.
If only she could get to it. But the giant oaf was blocking her way.
He grabbed a handful of her hair - which she considered to be her prized attribute due to it’s glossy, volumes length - and turned her over so she was face down on the ground. The back of her tunic was pulled up so that her skin was exposed. She thrashed against the cold air on her back.
"Hold her down," the giant guard growled at the other one.
Arianna continued to struggle but he shoved a boot into the base of her spine and she collapsed.
The smell of unwashed flesh met her as he giant guard lent down and whispered into her ear "I'm going to enjoy mangling that beautiful skin of yours. And when I'm done, and you're a mess, maybe I'll start mangling other parts of that body of yours."
Arianna’s rage was an animal as he slid his hand around her neck and with his sticky, gravel-like fingers, he caressed her breast.
"When I break free,” she roared, “I’m going to enjoy carving out your entrails whilst you're alive and feeding them to the birds."
Again, the giant guard just laughed at what he thought to be the absurdity of her threat. Arianna never made threats she didn't follow up on. And already her brain was working out how best to turn this situation on it’s head. With him on the floor and her tormenting the oaf.
Even the first crack of the whip and lash of pain that followed did not deter her from her planning. Her skin seared hot, like someone had poured boiling water down her back in a line. Still, her mind was racing. Even when the second whip split that red hot skin open and out spilled blood. And she continued to plan when the third whip tip was brought down like a lightening bolt on her already wounded back.
Through the pain haze she felt the grip of the skinner guard slacken. His hands were clammy from the lack of air in the room. Which was also numbing the edges of his concentration. The Goddess just needed to grant her a little luck…
And as the giant guard raised his whip for a fourth time, it came! The skinnier guard’s grip loosened enough that Arianna was able to twist herself to the side. From that point it was easy enough to use the side of her body to unbalance the skinny guard. Using the momentum of his fall she slid into him so that her body was under his. She knew it had worked when the crack of the whip was followed by a man howling and the absence of pain on her own skin.
The skinny guard let go of her completely after that.
Quick as a flash she was up on her feet. Using the surprise as well as her own gracefulness, she slammed herself into the giant guard. It didn't do much, since it was like trying to move a mountain. But he stumbled back the fraction of an inch that she needed to kick him down below and then deliver a hard and fast blow to the back of the neck as he doubled over from the impact of the kick in his groin.
There was no glance back at her work as she ran straight for the door, closing it behind her and turning the key that they had foolishly left in the lock. She pocketed the key. As she went to leave her promise to feed the giants entrails to the birds came back to her. Another time, she had to tell herself. Now was the time to seize her freedom.
So she pounded back down the corridor, hesitating only to select the door which looked most like it would lead to the outside world. She picked right, and was suddenly out into another corridor that looked much more a proper building people lived in rather than a prison. Her luck spurred her on, and she sped down the dark stone corridor, passing actual windows, as tall as the entire wall, and feeling the sunlight warm her body through her damp clothing.
However, the sun could not warm her wet back and the streaming blood meant that her tunic was sticking to her.
Still though, she ran for freedom.
Outside she saw grass and trees which meant she was on ground level. All she needed now was a door to exit through. The goddess answered her prayers once more, smiling on her day’s plight, when up ahead she saw an opening with beautiful greens and blues beckoning to her.
A grey blur dived for her. Her heightened senses meant she jumped forward in time to avoid being tackled by the blur. A guard went for her with his spear, jabbing without skill, just hoping that he would hit her. She grabbed the end of the spear, yanked him forward and as he fell into her she shoved her knee into his stomach. He groaned and dropped.
Without a reprieve, another guard came at her. This one was as inept with a spear as the last and she was easily able to disarm him and whack him over the head, the wood cracking on his skull and knocking him out.
A third guard launched his attack. This one must have been slightly more experienced because he lasted a second longer than his fellows. Still, she left him like a sack of potatoes in the corner.
Sweat broke out over forehead as her back stung angrily. She allowed her lungs a short moment to get their breath back - they ached from being boxed in by the giant guard - before readying herself for the next attack.
When no more guards came at her, she went for the door. There was a sweet taste in her air as she closed down the space between her and escape.
Except there was a thunderous rumble from behind her and she made the mistake of turning round to look.
The giant guard was bounding towards the exit flanked by the guard who had issued her punishment, and another man who looked familiar yet she couldn’t place straight way.
"Stop right there!” the expression-less guard shouted.
"Little bitch," the giant guard spat. His nose was bleeding. So she'd done more damage that she thought. Excellent.
"I told you to leave me be," she smiled sweetly.
Her eyes met those of the familiar man and the memory of her duel on the forest came back to her. The man who she believed was a captain. But as she took him in, focusing on his features and his attire together, she realised how wrong she’d been.
The man she’d duelled with was a Prince! How could she have made such a stupid mistake? Her revenge had limited her ability to act rationally. There was no way she’d miss spotting a Prince if she wasn’t seeing red.
"Take one more step and my men will bury an arrow in your chest," the expression-less guard said.
In the light of day he appeared much younger than she'd thought. Older than the Prince; late twenties if she had to make a guess. Impressive, since he obviously commanded some amount of authority with the men.
"I don't see these men?” she said sarcastically.
Yet her words were followed by the sound of arrows being cocked from all around her. The corridor suddenly filled with bodies, eyes locked on her, forming a tight circle around her. The guard smiled smugly at her.