Authors: Sue Lyndon
Sold into Marriage
Copyright 2016 by Sue Lyndon
All rights reserved
No part of this document may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Sue Lyndon. All names, brands, characters, and settings are purely from the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to real people, real brands, and real locations is a coincidence. Contact:
Published by Sweet Savage Press, LLC
Commander Varron strode through the small village known as Monnaka, thankful this was the last stop his troop had to make before returning to the capital city of Himma. Tomorrow the bloody taxes would be collected, and then he could put this distasteful assignment behind him. The commander of a troop was meant to lead battles against a worthy adversary, not play tax collector for King Baltus. Yet here he was, walking through the dusty streets of Monnaka after his meeting with the village elders regarding tomorrow’s collection.
“Commander!” One of his soldiers rushed up as he reached the encampment. “We caught an intruder in your tent. Likely a thief. It was one of the villagers.”
“Have him stripped and tied to the pole in the village square.” Varron gazed at the night sky. Any thief who tried to sneak into the soldier’s encampment under a full moon was a complete fool. “We will show him mercy by having him flogged in the morning, rather than chopping off one of his hands.” Capital city law dictated thieves must lose a hand, but Varron thought the practice was barbaric. A flogging was better. The thief would still learn a lesson, and perhaps if the villagers witnessed such a merciful punishment it would improve their collective attitude toward the crown as well as Himma city soldiers. Tales of mercy spread just as quickly as tales of horror and corruption in the villages beyond the capital city.
“But Commander, it’s a lass!”
Varron glared at the soldier. “A lass? Where is she being held?”
“She’s still in your tent, Commander, under guard.”
Quickening his pace, Varron rushed by the smaller tents that had recently been erected by his soldiers and headed for his tent, the largest in the encampment. From within the structure, lanterns glowed and tall bulking shadows moved around. He opened the flap of the tent and entered his temporary residence. As always, a wave of heat from the braziers welcomed him inside.
He looked up and his gaze caught the striking blue eyes of a petite, dark-haired beauty. Her face was flushed, her body tensed, as she glared at him with murderous intent.
“Are you the commander of these soldiers?” She tried to rise, but one of the guards put a hand on her shoulder, forcing her to remain seated on a stool. She blew out a frustrated breath. “I’ve done no wrong here. Your soldiers stole from my family first.”
Varron removed his sword belt and placed it atop the trunk near his bedroll. After riding hard all day, to make camp in Monnaka just before dusk, he’d wanted nothing more than to partake in a tall mug of mead and fall fast asleep. Now it appeared he must mete out justice. To a lass. Even if his soldiers had indeed stolen from her family, her entering his tent to steal his personal property was a greater offense, one that could not go unpunished.
“What is your name?” He moved closer to the girl, judging her to be about twenty years of age.
“I’ll not tell you my name until you tell me yours.” She lifted her chin in challenge, but he noticed her bottom lip quiver for a split second. The stubborn girl could act as brave as she wanted, but he knew she was frightened. If her trembling lip hadn’t given her away, the brief flashes of uncertainty in her gaze would have.
Varron glanced at the three soldiers who were guarding her. “Leave us.”
The men left the tent at once, filing out into the night. After they were gone, he stood over the little thief, noting that her hands were shaking in her lap. The poor thing probably thought her virtue was at risk, being alone in a tent with the commander of a troop from the capital city.
“Your name, lass,” he said sternly. “Do not make me ask again.”
She swallowed hard and met his eyes. “Meadow.”
“A lovely name for a lovely little thief.” He smirked.
“Like I said,” she replied, crossing her arms, “your men stole from me first. They took two of my family’s chickens. Didn’t even ask. Just helped themselves.”
“During the annual tax collection, the villages are required to feed capital city soldiers and provide them with anything else they may need. I realize you might not agree with this law, but it is the law, Meadow, and you must abide by it. As for sneaking into my tent and trying to steal my belongings…what were you trying to steal, anyway?” His gaze swept around the tent and he didn’t notice anything amiss.
“Well, I didn’t very well figure that out yet. I was caught immediately.” Mischief flickered in her eyes. “But I would have stolen something very nice. Perhaps something valuable from your trunk.”
“Alas, I fear you would have been disappointed. I do not travel with valuables, and the tax money collected is kept under guard in a random tent each night, so that the likes of you do not get ahold of it.”
She snorted. “The likes of me? You don’t know the first thing about me, sir.”
He studied her face, thinking her prettier than any of the ladies who had attempted to catch his eye in the capital. Beneath her brave façade, he detected a vulnerable side he very much wanted to glimpse more of. Not because he wanted to see her afraid, or beaten, or broken, but because he wanted to know all her secrets, her hopes, and her dreams. He gave himself a mental shake, caught off guard that this girl was affecting him so deeply when they’d met but moments ago.
“Are you married?” An odd question, he knew, but he felt such an intense pull toward the lass that he needed to know whether or not another man had already claimed her.
“No, sir, I am not.”
Relief swept through Varron at her answer. He stared at her, imagining what it would be like to call a lass so spirited and beautiful as Meadow his own.
“How old are you?”
“I am one and twenty, sir.” She cleared her throat and twisted her hands together in her lap. “Since I didn’t actually take anything, sir, am I free to go?” She spoke slowly and deliberately, as if she was struggling to hold her emotions back.
She blinked rapidly against a glimmer of tears, confirming Varron’s suspicions. His arms ached with the urge to hold her, and he shook his head physically this time, wanting the thoughts gone. She was a villager, a girl he would never see again, and it was not his habit to besmirch the virtue of innocent lasses, no matter how much his hardening cock protested.
“You will be free to go once you’ve been punished for trespassing.” Varron removed his surcoat and placed it aside, then methodically rolled his sleeves up. Her eyes grew wide as she no doubt realized what he intended. “If you were a man, you would be stripped and publicly flogged. Lucky for you, you’re a lass, and I will mete out your punishment right now in the privacy of my tent.”
She shot to her feet and shook her head. “But the soldiers took our chickens, and…” Her voice trailed off and she gulped as he reached for his sword belt. He removed the scabbards and folded the thick leather length in half. All the color drained from her face as she stared at the implement of punishment dangling from his hand.
“Please, sir.” She bit her lip and lifted her gaze to his. Those large blue eyes of hers called to his soul, and he once again found himself wondering about this pretty villager. Who was she? What was her life like? “I…I don’t even know your name.”
“I am Commander Varron.”
“Please, Commander Varron, I am sorry for sneaking into your tent. I just get very angry when it’s tax season and the soldiers come. They aren’t here for long, thank goodness, but they still take far more than they need, in my opinion. When I saw the soldiers taking our chickens, I admit I became enraged and I acted impulsively. But I didn’t mean you or anyone else any real harm.”
“Venturing into a soldier’s encampment is dangerous in itself, Meadow. A pretty young girl such as yourself could be easily taken advantage of and hurt. Many of my soldiers would assume you were a prostitute from the village, come to offer your services, and many wouldn’t think twice about forcing themselves on you, especially if they were in a drunken state. You did a very foolish thing by coming here tonight, and you will be punished for it. After I’ve seen you properly chastised, I will personally escort you home. Though you came here with the intent to steal from me, I do not wish you any real harm, lass.”
A shuddering breath left her, and she once again gazed at his sword belt, her eyes wide and fearful. Her chest rose and fell rapidly, and she hugged herself and shuddered. “Will it hurt much?”
“You’ve never been strapped before?”
Her long, dark hair flounced about her shoulders as she shook her head. “Never.”
“It stings more than a spanking, but you’ll survive it. I promise.”
She gave him an uncertain look. “Well, Commander, I’ve never been spanked before either.” She fidgeted in place and appeared so adorably nervous that he had to once again resist the impulse to gather her in his arms for a tender embrace. “I confess I am scared, though this is much preferable to a public flogging.”
He closed the distance between them and reached for one of her hands. She accepted his touch and allowed him to lead her to the stool she’d been seated on earlier. “I promise I will do you no lasting harm, sweet lass. I simply intend to teach you a lesson. I imagine after a good strapping you won’t dare sneak into a soldiers’ encampment again.”
The wind howled outside the tent, drowning out the voices of his men talking, laughing, and singing. Varron guided Meadow to stand before the stool and grabbed a blanket from his bedroll to place over it, wanting to make her as comfortable as possible during her strapping.
“Lift your skirts and lean over the stool, Meadow. The sooner you comply, the sooner this will be over.”
What had she been thinking? Meadow slowly got into position, bent over the stool with her skirts lifted up—all but the under layer, that is—and wished she hadn’t snuck out of her house in order to exact revenge on the soldiers. But she’d been in a foul, depressed mood, after enduring another one of her stepfather’s verbal tirades. He’d called her stupid and worthless, insulted her for not yet attracting a decent suitor, and had threatened to toss her out onto the streets for the umpteenth time. When she’d glimpsed two soldiers walking away from her home with the chickens, a white hot burst of anger had consumed her. She’d wanted revenge against them, against any of them, and so she’d picked the largest tent in the camp, thinking it would contain more valuables.
Well, she had been wrong. So wrong. She still didn’t understand where all her anger had come from today. Normally when her stepfather put her down, even with the vilest of words, she managed to forget about it within the hour. But maybe she wasn’t as good at brushing his hurtful comments off as she’d thought. Her actions today proved she had a lot of pent up frustrations.
“A proper strapping is always delivered on the bare, Meadow.” Commander Varron’s voice brought her back to the present as he lifted the final layer of her skirt.
“Please, sir, not on my bare bottom. You mustn’t.” She tried to stand up, but he pressed down on her back, forcing her to remain bent over and exposed.
“Aye, on the bare. Now, lift your backside higher, and part your legs and plant your feet more firmly on the ground so you don’t fall over.”
Her face flamed with humiliation as she obeyed. The leather brushed against her behind and she braced herself for the first blow.
“None of that, young lady. Unclench those cheeks.” He tapped the sword belt against her rear.
With a sigh, she relaxed her bottom, then held her breath in terrible anticipation.
The belt sliced through the air and impacted on her bum with a sharp sting. She gasped and rose up slightly, but with Varron’s guidance she soon got back into position. Again, he brought the belt down. It hurt, but the pain wasn’t unbearable. She imagined a flogging would’ve smarted much worse. Physically and emotionally. She couldn’t fathom the shame of being whipped publicly.
He brought the sword belt down again and again, and tears soon burned in her eyes. Her throat constricted and she swallowed hard, fighting the impulse to cry.
“Five more, Meadow. Take a few deep breaths first,” he said in a gentle tone.
Why wasn’t she fighting him? Why was she just bending over and submitting to this brutality?
The tears finally rolled down her cheeks. She inhaled the deep breaths he’d instructed her to take, and she wondered why she didn’t feel burning hatred for Commander Varron, as she’d felt when she witnessed the soldiers carrying away the chickens. Was she simply grateful he’d decided to carry out her punishment in the privacy of his tent? She didn’t know. Her thoughts sped into a jumble and her stupid tears kept falling.
What made her cry the hardest was that despite trespassing against him, he hadn’t yelled at her or called her any vile names. Not like her stepfather. No, Commander Varron had spoken to her respectfully and in a calm, though firm, voice as he interacted with her, a would-be-thief who’d entered his tent uninvited.
She berated herself for crying. So what if her stepfather treated her like dirt? That was no reason to have soft feelings, feelings of gratitude, for the enemy. And Commander Varron was the enemy. Himma city soldiers were an unwelcome sight in the village. During the annual tax collection, they took far too much from people who had little to give, and if they made an appearance at any other time of the year it only meant trouble. She wondered what it had been like to live hundreds of years ago, when gallant knights ruled by a code of honor had been the strength behind the crown.