Three months. That’s all it took for Kai to forsake freedom and learn to love his new life as pleasureslave to a wealthy Thirskan Underlord.
Finding himself surrounded by his own people once more, Kai should have been happy: relieved to be rescued from slavery, and out of the clutches of a man who was the sworn enemy of his people. Yet his people are not how he remembers them. Distrustful of Kai, and disgusted by his relationship with not one man but two, they make it abundantly clear he no longer fits in.
Beaten, starved, and tortured, when the chance comes to escape, Kai is barely strong enough to make the journey. Even if he succeeds, how could anybody ever love the thing he’s become in order to survive?
The man I loved was dead. I’d held Maal’s crumpled body in my arms, slicked myself in his blood, kissed his closed eyelids and cold lips. Even in death, he’d been beautiful. Even in death, I’d been too afraid to whisper the three most important words I’d never said to him. He’d never known I loved him, and now he never would.
I hadn’t deserved him. I’d twisted our friendship into something rotten, something as foul and flawed as I was myself. Had Maal known the truth, he’d have distanced himself from me, cast me aside with revulsion or—more likely—looked at me with pity in his moss green eyes, unable to understand or return my feelings. I’d always thought it best he never knew. Yet the moment his death removed the possibility of someday telling him what was truly in my heart, I regretted every second I’d spent lying to him.
Maal was dead, and I no longer had reason to live. I was done with fighting, done with war, done with the endless marching, trooping, camping, the monotony of a soldier’s days, the horrors revisited in soldier’s dreams. I wasn’t a hero. I was cannon fodder, the same as all the rest.
I lay in the dirt beside Maal’s corpse and waited for the enemy to strike me down.
Why they hadn’t, I’d never know. I’d never heard of the Thirskans taking prisoners of war, but then again, I doubt the generals would have warned us. I was unprepared when they grabbed me, my sword lost, dagger flung from my side for fear when it came to the crux, I’d want to defend myself.
Ending up in this place hadn’t been a consideration. If I’d thought for a moment, I’d have taken my dagger and finished what the Thirskans had started.
If I had been a braver man.
Instead I found myself carried away, kicking and screaming, the men jeering at me, their tongue alien to my ears but the meaning of their words as clear as day. When I became too troublesome they beat me unconscious, and I awoke naked in a small, dark cage in a stifling room with other cages all around me. Upon running a hand through my hair, I discovered somebody had cut it off.
The cages were built into the walls, sides open so I could see my fellow captives beyond the bars. Children, mostly, terrified boys with snotty faces and red-rimmed eyes. Not a man among them who looked capable of fighting. The centre of the room formed a corridor between the cages, down which burly guards patrolled, short bullwhips affixed to their belts. They paid little heed to the other prisoners, but the stoutest man amongst them took up position outside my cell, his dead eyes fixed on me with grim resolve.
Floorboards creaked above my head, some commotion in an upper room as men moved about. Still I had no idea where I was, or what this was all about. The children weren’t soldiers—they didn’t even appear to be Granthian, so not war trophies, either. Most looked like the offspring of the Northern kingdoms.
As I made the connection, a tendril of fear curled in my gut.
The Thirskans kept slaves. Of course they did: they were barbarians to a man, a rough and dangerous race. Was that what this was? Was I about to be sold like some common animal, just another chicken for the pot?
Even as the realisation sank home, movement at the end of the corridor caught my eye. More men entered though a doorway adjacent to the upward flight of steps leading out of the room. Common servants, by the look of them, not as well built as the guards, and each carried a pair of pails. The first set one bucket down outside the nearest cell, held the other with both hands, and soaked the occupant, a boy of at most twelve or thirteen. He shrieked, the water obviously being cold, cowering in the back of the cage as the guards laughed nastily at the way his pudgy flesh quivered. Unmoved, the man who had doused him picked up his second bucket and repeated the action with the kid in the adjacent cell.
When it came my turn for a dousing, I stood with my hands on the bars of the cell door, staring down the scrawny man who was to soak me. If I was free I could snap his neck with my bare hands. I could make the whites of his eyes turn red with blood, make him choke on his own tongue. He should have feared me. Instead, he barely gave me a second glance before sluicing me with the contents of the pail.
The water hit me with the shock of a thousand dagger pricks, my skin shrinking with the sensation of how very, very cold it was. I shook my head like a dog, spat out a mouthful which ran down my face, and threw myself at the bars.
The guards reacted in an instant. They couldn’t get at me with their whips, and they weren’t stupid enough to open the door, but the moment I lunged forward the burly man who’d been watching me reached between the bars and seized me by the back of the neck, holding me in an uncomfortable headlock against the cold iron. I struggled against his grasp, but my poor position made me ineffectual, my attack thwarted by my own blind rage. He kept up a steady pressure on my windpipe until I rasped for breath, my limbs hung limp, and my vision spotted, on the very cusp of passing out.
When he released me I fell to my knees, and watched through lowered lids the sandal-shod feet of the servant as he paused to collect his bucket.
I didn’t look up again until the first cage was opened with a squeal of rusty hinges. The tubby boy was dragged out, blubbering like a toddler. I curled my lip. At his age, he should have been tougher.
They walked him up the flight of steps and pushed him through the iron door at the top, sealing it with a stout wooden bar. I heard him cry out on the other side, and wondered what fate had befallen him.
The whole room fell silent, all of us listening intently for any clue what was happening to the boy. What was about to happen to us.
We released a collective breath when the iron door opened and the boy was readmitted and bundled back into his cage, shocked but seemingly unharmed. They dragged out the one next to him and the process repeated, working its way steadily down the line to where I was being held.
When it came my turn to be taken out, I met the eyes of the man standing guard and sneered, bracing myself for a fight. The man beckoned and three more guards approached, the four of them forming a tight wall around the door to my cage. The moment it was open I sprang back, hoping to lure them inside where I had the advantage.
The biggest man entered, his bullwhip uncoiled, fingers flexing around the handle. I rushed him, crashing my shoulder into his stomach, seizing him around the waist and managing to push him a pace or two before he planted his large feet and pushed back. Great Overlord in the sky, it was like trying to move a mountain.
The man took me by the wrist, swung me free like I was nothing, and flung me out of the door and into the waiting arms of his companions. I thrashed as hard as I could, but with one man holding each limb, I was half-carried, half-dragged through the corridor and up the stairs. At the top they tossed me through the doorway and slammed it shut, leaving my ears ringing with the long note of the metallic clang.
No sooner had I found my feet than I was being manhandled by more guards and pushed onward. I was in another corridor of sorts, almost perfectly dark, steel bars enclosing the sides from floor to ceiling. Ahead of me the bars opened into a large, circular cage, lit from in front by strong lights. Beyond the cage’s edge I sensed movement, but I couldn’t have said how many men were there. This, then, was to be how I was sold. I wouldn’t even have the luxury of seeing my purchaser.
I slipped free of the man holding my right arm, twisted away from the one on the left, and raced back towards the door. The crack of a whip sang in the heavy air, and pain blossomed along my spine. I bit my tongue to contain the cry, the tang of copper filling my mouth. The men didn’t give me a moment for the pain to subside before they grabbed me again, more firmly this time, and hauled me onward to where I was supposed to go.
At the cage’s edge I shook them loose, glowering darkly at their shadowed forms. I spat the blood from my mouth at their feet. So they were going to sell me like a common animal. All right. I’d show whichever bastard purchased me what a wild brute I could be.
There are no words to describe this book, but I will try. This is book 2 of the Free Men Series (Book 1 is The Slave) The Soldier is written in Kai's POV. The Soldier is heartbreaking and soul cleansing. Kai is so brave, so giving. I was somewhat shocked as I meandered through his mind in this book. In the first one we are in Tam's POV so we can only guess where Kai's mind is at. Kai is sacrificial is so many things in this tale. I cried CRIED reading this. You want to protect Kai and many times throughout you feel he is forgotten. That was the hardest part for me. I was overcome by the loneliness he carries. The second book in this saga is the meat to this story. Book 1 we were swept away in the pureness, hope, and love that is Tam. In The Soldier we are left breathless by the darkness, despair, and unknown adoration of Kai. God only knows what Kate Aaron has in store for us in Book 3. EXCELLENT BOOK!
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