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Volume 3163a
Princess of Az-Lium
by Den Valdron



Larry Ivie
The bandits froze.

“No,” I said desperately, “you can't kill him, I forbid it!”

“You forbid?”  One eye asked genially.  My breath caught for a second, as I realized that I had just sealed Aspar Aguus fate.

“Release me from these chains,” I demanded, hoping to change the subject.

“Perhaps you really are a Princess, you certainly give orders like one,” he said smoothly.  I stared at him defiantly.  Submission would do no good.

Pul Bayl thought it over and nodded.  One of the bandits came over with a key and fumbled with my locks, giving me time to think furiously.   All too soon, I stood free.

“Thank you,” I said.

“‘Thanks?’ That's not very Princess-like.” he mocked.  “Perhaps your time with the Orgus has taught you manners?”

He chuckled.

“It might be interesting to see what else he's managed to teach you.”   Bayl leered with his single eye, it was not a pretty sight on his ruined face.  “Perhaps we'll have you show us.  Perhaps we'll have lessons of our own to give you.”

The men laughed at this ribald joke.   I didn't like the way things were going.  Still, they had freed me.  Although it could go badly, I was not quite helpless in this game.  Imperiousness would not work, I had not the strength to back it up against these thugs, and if I failed, they'd be on me like beasts.  Appeal to their better natures?  Maybe.  If they had any.

But don't show weakness.

“The Orgus did not touch me, he treated me with perfect courtesy and respect,” I said calmly.  “Have the red men of Barsoom less honour towards a helpless woman?”

Actually, from what I'd seen of the Red Men so far, I would not put it past them to mate with Sadoks.  Still, some had the decency to look ashamed.

Others merely leered.

“Your safety and happiness, ‘Princess,’” Pul Bayl said mockingly, “is our paramount concern.  But you should leave martial matters to men.   Save your words for women's causes.”

An idea occurred to him, “It is only fitting that you should repay our friendship with the ...  resources you have at hand.”

That was not good.  Could I save my Orgus?  I might not be able to save myself.  Try something else, I thought.

“I am no Princess, as you have guessed,” I replied, “but I am still an acolyte of the jewels.  If you help my people, I will lead you to them.  But if you harm me, then you will have nothing but the moments pleasure of my ruin.”

“I think....”  One eye said smiling, “that I would enjoy ruining you, ‘Princess.’  But I will forgo that pleasure, for a greater reward.   We need you, we do not need the Orgus.”

“Aspar Aguus,” I said, “is my friend and protector now.  If he was ever my captor, he ceased that role.  He is brave and decent, I owe him my life.  I beg his life.”

“You owe him your life,” One Eye replied.  “We owe him nothing.”

“We need him,” I said, “he's strong, he's a valiant fighter.”

“So are we.  I have no shortage of strong men and valiant fighters, that coin is cheap.”

 “He knows these lands.”

“So do we.  Cheap coin, ‘Princess.’  You'll not buy his life with such.”

“He is the Third Jed of Hedo Letus,” I said.

“Third?”   One Eye replied.  “That's impressive.”

“If you kill him,” I said, “you will arouse the Orgus nation against you.  Hedo Letus himself will take revenge.”

“Out here, in the middle of nowhere, how will he know?  Who will tell him?”   One eye smiled, and a cold chill slid up my spine, I could tell he measured my life just a bit shorter, suddenly.

In the plays, bandits and pirates were inevitably fools, greedy, lustful, easily duped.   These were altogether too clever.  These red men might be a superstitious lot, but they were cunning as well.

“You have too many men to keep such a secret,” I replied.  I was gratified to note the men glancing uneasily at each other.  Was there a lack of trust?

“And in any event, Aspar Aguus is on a mission for the Orgus.  Others will follow, they will find his body and the trail of his murderers no matter what you do.”

“You make a lot of sense,” One Eye conceded.

“Let him live, I beg you,” I said with carefully tailored humility, “he can help us, he will help us.”

“I serve the Princess,” Aguus announced.  I concealed a wince.  Please stop helping, I thought.  I'm not a Princess, I'm an acolyte now, a priestess, or something.   Keep up with the script changes, this was not a rehearsal, this was a final performance.

“I pledge his loyalty,” I tried to cover.

One eye nodded, rubbing his chin.  “You are correct, ‘Princess,’ I can't argue your logic.  You are perfectly right.”

Oh oh, I thought.  I didn't like the way he spoke, it was as if he had something in mind.

“But still...  You forbid it.   You.   You gave an order.  There's only one leader here, only one person gives orders, and that is me.  You belong to us now, we do not belong to you.  You need to be shown your place.  So we will kill the Orgus, and if you mourn his death, you have only yourself to blame.  Consider it a lesson.  I'm sure there will be many more to teach you.”

He drew his knife, and strode towards Aspar Aguus, who stared at him without fear.

“Wait!”  I shouted.

He paused.

“His life, it is a small thing to you, let me buy it, please!”  I begged.

“You've offered only cheap coins so far.  Will you sell us the Jewels of Power again, ‘Princess’?” One Eye asked, mockingly.

No, I decided.  I could not, that illusion was too delicate.  Too much weight, too many favours and it would crumble.  They would not believe I would trade the Jewels for an alien's life.

“I already promised them to you, if you will help my people.”

He nodded.

“Then ‘Princess,’” he said, “what do you have to buy it with?  You have no gold or jewels on you, we made sure of that.  Is there some cache of treasure hidden in this dead place?   Is there some secret fortune tucked away that you might reveal?”

He leered.  “Perhaps we should search you again...  More deeply?”

He wanted it, I thought.  Whatever bounds of decency or restraint or discipline bound them, they chafed against it.  They would not touch me, but still, they could not leave the thought alone.  Could I use this?

“No....”  I said, slowly, seeming to leave words dangling.   That by the way, is a hell of a trick to master, the art of the unspoken hanging sentence.   They were intrigued, and hopeful.  Careful I thought, play this very carefully.  I dipped my chin, stared at the ground, gave my lip an artful tremble.

“Then what do you offer....  ‘Princess.’” Again, the mocking tone.

Here it comes, I thought.  Make it good.

“To save my people, I will give you the Jewels,” I let my voice drop, “to save his life, I will give you my honour.”

“Princess!” shouted Aspar Aguus, “do not do this!  I will not allow it!”

Finally, something he said helped.

“Your life, my brave warrior,” I said softly, “is worth more to me than my own virtue.”

I snuck a glance at the bandits, now gathered close, their expressions a mixture of lustful anticipation, shame and awed respect.  More obviously, One Eye looked around at his men.  I concealed a hidden smile.

“You have a deal...  ‘Princess.’”

I won.

I do not know of the virtue of Princesses, though I suspect it's quite overrated.   As to the virtue of actresses, well, popular of opinion in Az-Lium is that there is no such thing.  As to the existence of my own virtue, I must say, if that illusion ever had substance, it was dispelled during the performance of ‘The Reprehensible Orgies of Carnelian Jherek and his Seven Vices.”  I was vice number 6, a small role, but I had excellent reviews.

As to the virtues of brigands, let us say that there was much ado about nothing.   It seems that the reputations of outlaws prowess were much exaggerated.    These were not the “Lusty Pirates of the Rhiannon Isles,” memorialized in song and story.  They were not “The Horny Highwaymen of Horz,”  and fell far short even of the “Insatiable Bandits Fiendish Scheme,” in which by the way, I'd had a leading role as the Merchant's Daughter....  And very good reviews, I might add.

No, this was more like, “The Bumpkins Find A Gold Piece.”    To be sure, they were enthusiastic.  But enthusiasm in pleasure is all too often a blossom that, though it smells sweetly, wilts quickly.  I found that once aroused, my own appetites overmatched theirs in a fashion that eventually seemed to frighten them, though of course, they could not admit that to themselves.

Fortunately, I insisted upon private performances, for I wanted the feeling of well being and contentment experienced by each in the aftermath of pleasure to be shared with me, rather than with each other.  In such moments of intimacy, I sought to forge a bond with each.

Upon each of them, I worked the arts of seduction.  Pul Bayl, to no particular surprise, was clever but cruel, and as he bound my wrists above my head with his hands, as his lips pressed to mine, I knew that control was utmost in his mind.  I had met his kind before, and ironically, they were always easy to manipulate.

On the other hand, his henchman, Japh Leah, was by far the most capable, and disturbingly attentive.  As lustful as the others, I caught him watching me even as I watched him.  I counted him dangerous, and disliked him immensely.

The bald man, Vadak Eth came to my body with a subtlety that left me gasping.  He used his hands overmuch, and in his touch, there was a streak of hidden cruelty, not quite concealed.  A thorn concealed within the blossoms.

One by one, the others revealed their natures and characters.  But the most remarkable discovery was Ton Sabat, the strangely muscled youth.   Indeed, that was only the beginning of his strangeness, for his accent was strange and guttural, unlike anything I had heard before in this strange new world.

There was something deeply wrong with him, all Barsoomians have a degree of wordless communication, an understanding that facilitated speech.  But with Ton Sabat, there was nothing, he was a picture of smiling idiocy, you might think there was not a thought in his head, until he said something in his clumsy broken way.

“You are my first woman in this world,” he told me, shockingly.

“My word,” I replied, “how old are you?”

“Thirty-six,” he said, “but in my world, the years are only half as long.”

How extraordinary, I thought.  An eighteen year old virgin.  Such innocence was inconceivable, but perhaps, I considered, it might give me a hold over him.  I did not mention I was over two hundred, actresses never disclose their age.

Still, getting beyond his obvious mental retardation and disorder, I found him pleasingly athletic when it came to physical exertions, and we passed the time happily.

But the finest moment came when he turned to leave, and I spotted a bare spot of white flesh on his hip.  I checked my thigh, finding red stage paint.  Ton Sabat underneath the paint, was as white as I was.  I had found my ally in this group, another Orovar, a hidden countryman.

The only problem was that he was clearly  brain damaged.


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