A beacon of light filled the dark cellar. Marrika heard her master walk down the stairs, his weight causing the wood to creak. His voice was unnaturally pleased and expressive, a tone which he only put on when a nobleman visited.
"Give me just a moment to fetch this city's finest, your Lord. Only the best for a man of your standing!" Her master chuckled light-heatedly. It made her skin crawl.
He waddled over to her. Even in the dim light and his loose robes, Marrika could see the gut of his belly jiggle as much as the solid gold hoops in his ears. He reached over and placed his fat fingers on her, closing tightly around her skinny wrist. She could feels the rings on his hand cut into her.
"Please," she begged, in a quiet voice. "You promised."
"I promised no such thing," he replied, whispering back so that the nobleman above could not overhear. "You're lucky that I didn't throw you out onto the streets, or take you to O'Han and have him get rid of the problem."
At the mention of O'Han, she shuddered and wrapped her free arm protectively around her waist. Her master tugged her up the stairs.
"You will give this man what he wants, do whatever he asks, and you will make sure that he is happy."
A tall, thin man, dressed in fine silks and expensive velvet, stood in the centre of the brothel. His hair was black, blacker than the cellar at night, and his eyes, well his eyes reminded her of the way the sky had looked in the north, before she had been dragged back down south.
This memory of home filled her with a kind of painful happiness and she felt her eyes begin well up. Her master shot her a threatening look and her tears disappeared. She put on an alluring smile, one that could fool any man into thinking that she was deeply in love with them.
"Marrika Belsov, woman of the North," her master announced.
The nobleman looked dazed for a second, but then quickly came to his sense and directed a question towards her master.
"Is this the last whore of yours to have lain with the prince?"
The question was so directed and so unexpected that it caught her master off guard. His façade of having easy personality crumbled and he stood there spluttering. Marrika saw her chance.
"Yes, my lord. I have pleased many noblemen in my time and will do my best to please you." She curtseyed graciously, as she was rather a princess than a whore.
The nobleman smiled. He handed her master a large bag of gold. Her master stared down at what he held incredulously. It was obviously heavy and way too much, but he did not dare correct his customer.
"I wish to bring her to the castle and have her overnight," the nobleman spoke plainly. "I have a carriage waiting for us outside." He gestured to one of the guards that entered the brothel with him. The guard, who had been occasionally taking sneaky glances at the half-naked woman wondering around, shifted guiltily and reveal the most beautiful dress Marrika had ever seen.
"Put this on," said the nobleman, throwing it at her. "And be quick. I don't wish to wait much longer."
They arrived soon after at the palace. She looked briefly at the nobleman sat in the carriage beside her. Pharneus Dracarys, he had said his name was, and that was all he had said. Marrika hadn't minded the silence though, it was just so nice to be outside the brothel she had been locked away in for years.
He then led her into a room in the palace which was empty but for several chairs. It confused her. Perhaps he had gone to the wrong room? She was about to politely inquire this when another woman walked in.
"I am Nieneve Dracarys," the woman said. She was beautiful, with flowing black hair and blue eyes that matched the dress she wore, only slightly lighter than the nobleman who Marrika assumed to be her brother as they shared the same family name.
"What is your name?" She asked, smiling gently at her. Marrika stared back at her, confused at this lady's kindness.
"Marrika, your Lady."
"Marrika, that's a beautiful name. I wonder if the prince ever remembered it. If you don't mind, Marrika, I'd like to ask you some questions about my husband to be."
Husband. The woman that stood in front of her was to be princess then. This at first shocked her, but soon she felt the fear soak in and realised how dangerous her situation was. She cared little for her own life, yet there was something more important that needed protecting.
Her hands instinctively flew to the invisible swell of her stomach before she could stop herself. The woman saw this and opened her mouth to speak, but was interrupted by another person who had entered the room.
Marrika did not recognise him by face, but when Pharneus Dracarys said his name allowed she identified him as the infamous king's Hand. She then understood why he was widely known by commoners as the Snake. He looked like one, an angry one. When he spoke, she was surprised that it did not come out as a hiss.
"I heard that an uninvited visitor has entered the palace." He was referring to Marrika, but his eyes was fixed on Pharneus Dracarys.