Sarah walked next to Wholawski through the inner keep into the courtyard. Given the pace, she had to walk fast and in a single glance, he’d sized up the fact she was still wearing pants of a sort.
“I thought I asked you to wear a dress.” He stopped and spun to face her.
“I hate long dresses and prefer pants,” Sarah stated, meeting his gaze.
“Yet you do not like women.” The General’s gleaming eyes studied her.
“Think of me as a pale skinned Arenian,” Sarah stated. Brushing past him, she moved to where James stood.
“You walk on thin ice,” James whispered through his plastered smile.
“Is everything ready Captain James?” Wholawski joined them quickly.
“They are all gathered and the Major awaits his punishment,” James replied as he handed General Wholawski a cat-o-nine tails.
Sarah could see a plethora of men had gathered in the practice field. One man, stood shivering in the cold and Sarah recognized him as the one Chester had been ‘playing’ with earlier. The Assassin stood beside the Major, a wicked smile upon his face.
The man looked ragged and Sarah felt sorry for him. He was covered in nicks and bruises; one spot upon his leg bloodier than the rest.
“Major Chantey has committed a grievous crime,” Wholawski bellowed, the wind carrying his voice through the crowd. “He has been withholding information. Information that is vital to our survival. Not once did he report a single missing man until today. Forty men, he has lost on patrol. Forty men that will not return to us with information on what has been causing the noises in the woods where Major Chantey dares not go. But, Captain James shall venture forth with his men and tell us what has frightened you like babes.”
Wholawski cracked the whip, causing Major Chantey to flinch. He beckoned the man forward. It was only with prodding by Chester that he drew close. Sarah could see the fear in the Major’s eyes.
“Forty men you have lost, Chantey,” Wholawski spoke evenly as conversations broke out among the gathered men. “That is four hundred lashes, ten for each man; however,” he flashed a smile at Sarah that made her skin crawl. “I have proposition for you. Fight her instead and if you win, your lashes shall be decreased to forty and I’ll have her warm your bed for you, though you won’t be able to touch her.”
“And what if I don’t want to fight him,” Sarah asked.
The General’s smile broadened. “Then you will be warming my bed, and I will touch you.”
Sarah repressed a shudder. “And if I win?”
“If you win, then I won’t touch you. But,” his eyes flicked to the Major, “if you kill him, you will warm no man’s bed; tonight.”
Shit, Sarah’s mind reeled, What the hell kind of choice is that? Kill a man or she’d be sleeping next to The General, and if she didn’t at least beat the man she’d be sleeping next to him. Refusal was right out.
“I’ll fight her,” Major Chantey spoke before Sarah could. “Forty lashes ain’t nothing if I get to sleep next to that fine bitch.”
Sarah’s stared into the man’s lusting eyes and her sympathy for him went right out the window. “I am not a bitch,” she stated coldly.
“I shall take that as your consent to the duel,” Wholawski chuckled. He cracked the whip and silence fell upon the crowd. Projecting his voice once more, he spoke to them all. “The punishment has been determined. A duel shall be had between Major Chantey and Goodwoman Sarah,” he gestured to Chantey and Sarah in turn. “Should the Major win he gets forty lashes and the chance to sleep, though bound, next to the Goodwoman. Should he lose, he will die, by her sword, or by my whip.” Wholawski cracked the whip again. “Captain James,” he lowered his voice as the buzz in the crowd rose, “prepare the Goodwoman and be sure she is outfitted properly. Senior Captain Chester, see to it that the Major is ready as well. You have ten minutes.”