Lakshmi checked the knife in her pocket. She wasn’t sure why King Guy had taken the risk of contacting her through a servant and asking her to come to his room, but she doubted it would be good. Lakshmi was half afraid it might be a trap, and that King Guy would tell the emperor she had come to his room for immoral reasons.
The emperor wouldn’t believe King Guy. At least, Lakshmi hoped he wouldn’t, but she was more worried that King Guy would try to take advantage of her once she was alone. He was a dangerous man, and the closer the date came for Guy to leave with Ajuni, the more dangerous he seemed.
With more confidence than she felt, Lakshmi knocked briskly on King Guy’s door.
Lakshmi took a deep breath as she entered the room. She hadn’t been in these quarters since King Guy had taken up residence, and she wished she had not had to enter now. She could feel his presence in the rooms, the creeping evil and lecherous feelings that filled the old man. It made her skin crawl.
“You wanted to see me?” Lakshmi asked coolly. She did not cross the room to him, but stayed near the door, balanced on the balls of her feet, ready to flee.
“Yes. Come here, Lakshmi. I want to show you something.”
King Guy was holding an intricate wooden box on his lap. Lakshmi doubted there was anything in there that made crossing the room and standing near the king worth it, but she could not disobey a direct order, especially not when the order seemed so reasonable. She crossed the room and bent down to look at the box.
Guy’s hands moved faster than Lakshmi would have thought possible. One hand grabbed Lakshmi’s right wrist while the other shot into her pocket and grabbed her knife. “Strange, for a concubine to walk around armed.”
Lakshmi wrenched herself free. It was not dark in the opulent room, and Lakshmi had no trouble controlling herself. She wanted to strike King Guy, to reach out and grab her knife back and teach the man some manners, but she knew that would be foolish. Instead, she ran for the door.
“Not so fast,” King Guy said. His voice was deceptively calm, but Lakshmi did not have to wonder why for long. Two armed men stepped out of the shadows and blocked the doorway. They were two of the guards that had accompanied King Guy to the palace, and from their expressions they did not seem at all concerned about the fact that they were preventing the emperor’s concubine from leaving.
“What are you doing?” Lakshmi asked, rounding on King Guy furiously.
“Whatever I please,” King Guy said amiably. “I watch you in court, or at dinner. Your slumberous eyes, your mouth…I knew I must have you before I leave.”
Lakshmi shuddered. “When the emperor finds out—”
“Who do you think the emperor will believe?” Guy asked. “A whore, or the king who is going to marry his daughter and strengthen the empire in a way that has not been done since Samarth’s grandfather’s time?”
“He will believe me,” Lakshmi said. The emperor had to know she would never sleep with King Guy. With the exception of Roland, Lakshmi had never so much as kissed a man, and the emperor did not know about Roland. He would believe her innocence.
“Are you sure of that?” Guy asked. “What does he have to gain in believing you? Nothing a dozen other concubines can’t give him. If he chooses to believe me, he gets my allegiance. I will marry his daughter, and the empire will rejoice.”
Lakshmi’s soul shuddered. King Guy thought that the emperor would merely be replacing a concubine, but Lakshmi knew that it would be just as easy to replace her as a bodyguard. “I will tell the emperor if you so much as touch me,” she said, trying to sound as though the emperor would choose to believe her.
The king smiled. “Oh, I plan to do more than touch you,” King Guy said, stepping forward. “And I think, if you tell the emperor, he will not care.” Lakshmi had had enough of letting King Guy have the upper hand. She would not let herself be fondled and subjected to even worse when she could defend herself. She shifted her weight…and felt strong hands gripping her arms.
“Uh, uh, uh,” the king said disapprovingly. “You see, I thought you might fight. That is why I brought my men. If you choose to cooperate, you won’t get hurt. If you don’t…well, these men will see that you do cooperate.”
Lakshmi tried to free herself, but their hands were like vises, and when the king came forward and stroked Lakshmi from neck to shoulder, she could not get away.
“Your veil teases me,” King Guy said, ripping off Lakshmi’s veil. “Ah, your lips are even more lovely now.” He leaned forward for a kiss, and Lakshmi jerked wildly before kneeing him in the groin.
Her aim was off, and though King Guy’s hands went to the injured area, he was not incapacitated.
His black eyes lit with rage, and his hand shot out in a vicious slap that made Lakshmi’s ears ring.
“You bitch,” he said. “You’ll pay for that.” He straightened up and gestured for the guards to take better control of her. When her legs were restrained as well as her arms, King Guy returned.
“Don’t do this,” Lakshmi said, working to keep her eyes level instead of showing her fear.
“You know, I think I’ll like it better this way,” Guy said, ignoring Lakshmi’s plea. He smiled, and his smile was as vicious as the hand that tore her blouse.
He grabbed roughly at her breasts, and Lakshmi could not hold back the screams that welled up in her throat as feminine terror overrode years of training. She could not fight, could only scream and beg. The feel of his hands were even worse, because she could remember the feel of Roland’s hands, Roland’s mouth, and knew just how wrong this was.
Screams ripped from her throat, making it raw and painful as the king removed her clothes, laughing and pawing at her while the guards held her captive.
Fear and humiliation overwhelmed Lakshmi so that she couldn’t breathe.
Then other cries joined hers, and her arms and legs were loosed. Lakshmi collapsed on the ground and wrapped her arms around herself in an attempt to shield her nakedness. She watched in disbelief as Roland knocked down the two guards and turned on King Guy.
His blue eyes were filled with rage, and the hand not holding his sword was clenched in a fist. His voice shook as he spoke. “Stand against the wall,” he ordered the king.
“You can’t order me around,” King Guy said. “I am a king.”
“That, YourHighness, is not the question at the moment.” One of the guards on the ground stirred, and Roland kicked him. “Stay down before I see to it that you never stand again.”
The guard stopped moving, and Roland returned his attention to Guy. “Up against the wall,” Roland repeated. “Slowly. Let me see your hands.”
Lakshmi suddenly remembered the knife, and thought to shout out the warning to Roland, but he had already noticed it.
“I’m quicker with my sword,” he told the king. “Slide the knife toward Lakshmi.”
With a look of disgust that did not quite mask his fear, Guy did as he was told. Lakshmi’s arm darted out and grabbed the knife before she pulled in on herself again. She could not bear the thought of being completely bare before the king and his guards again.
“Lakshmi, there’s a blanket on the settee behind you,” Roland said as though he could read her thoughts. “Can you get it?”
Lakshmi shook her head.
Roland kept an eye on the three other men in the room. One of the guards was still unconscious from a punch in the jaw, and the other was remembering the kick in the ribs and staying down. King Guy’s eyes were filled with hate, but he was standing against the wall as Roland had instructed. With care not to leave anyone unaccounted for, Roland fetched the blanket and draped it around Lakshmi, careful not to touch her.
“Can you get up now?” he asked softly.
Lakshmi nodded and pulled herself to her feet. She was shaking, but with her nakedness covered and a knife in her hand, she felt more confident. “I’m okay,” she said.
Anger welled up in Roland as he took inventory of her trembling hands and the bruise forming on her cheek, but he said nothing about her injuries. “Good. Go into the hall and find a servant. Have them send some guards up here, and get you a new blouse. I think yours is ruined.
Lakshmi shuddered but did as Roland had bid. She slipped back into her pantaloons in a room adjoining the king’s, and was just changing into her new blouse when the guards arrived to escort King Guy and his two rogue guards to the emperor’s court.
“Come on, Lakshmi. We have to go report what happened here.”