[This is the third extract from my historical romance, The Tiger and the Cauldron, available now as an e-book on Amazon worldwide.]
Terror gripped Doquz. Melik and Jahan held her so tightly she could hardly move. They dragged her to the stables, kicked the door open and threw her down roughly, forcing the breath from her lungs. Before she could crawl away, Melik seized her legs, pulled her towards him and forced her skirt up over her hips.
Her ordeal lasted minutes, but it seemed like hours. Jahan was partly undressed already. He pushed Melik away and straddled her back. Doquz could feel his hands pawing at her buttocks as he struggled to push her legs apart. She tried to scramble away but his weight held her firmly, forcing her head down into the hay of the stall. Only her left hand was free. Doquz twisted towards him and felt a savage pain shoot through her shoulder as his knee pressed on a nerve. She moved her free hand towards her dagger and touched its hilt. It was too deeply wedged between bodice and skin for her to grasp it in her palm so she tried to pull it free by gripping it between her thumb and forefinger.
Less than five paces away, on a bale of hay, sat Melik, his ugly face twisted in a lecherous grin as he awaited his turn of her. His mouth was agape, his nostrils flared and beads of sweat ran down his brow.
Jahan was bent over her now, his head nuzzling the right side of her neck. Doquz could smell his vile breath and the stink of his armpits. Her fingers closed on the dagger hilt but she had managed to withdraw it just a fraction when her attacker took her from behind. Doquz felt her body was being split in two. She closed her eyes, certain she was going to die.
However, she had scarcely done so when she was struck by a jet of warm fluid. She opened her eyes again to see the world through a curtain of red. It seemed that half of Melik’s body had disappeared. The legs extended towards her and quivered like bowstrings that have just delivered their arrows, but the head, one shoulder and an arm were missing. In their place was a torrent of blood that washed over the man’s corslet, soaking the straw on which his stiffening trunk yet sat. Beside this obscenity with gory sword raised high was the stranger whom she had noticed in the dining hall as she drained the liquor flagon.
Doquz had seen death and violence before but never had it filled her with such horror. Though Jahan had relaxed his hold, she was for a moment helpless to move. Then something snapped inside her brain. Instead of fear and disgust, she was filled with a terrible rage. She wrenched herself free of her persecutor, rolled onto her side and drew the little dagger fully from its sheathe. She slashed upwards, connecting with flesh.
Doquz could see his face now, all bloody. The blade had gone into his cheek, close to his ear. She swung her arm and slashed again, cutting into the sinews of his throat. He screamed again and fell backwards. Doquz leapt on him in a blind fury, cutting and stabbing until his body was a mass of wounds and all cries and movement had ceased.
“He is dead, Princess.” The stranger pulled her away.
Doquz was shaking all over. She sat up and stared at her rescuer. He was not a young man but he had the physique of a youth.
“There is one other …” she gasped, “ …injured … in the armoury.”
“He will trouble no one,” said the swordsman. “I’m only sorry I did not come sooner. Though I guessed what was in your mind when I saw you drink the mares’ milk and followed you, your disguise confused me.” He gestured with his hands. “The scarf!”
Doquz, still trembling and aching in every muscle, scrambled to her feet, pushed her skirt back into place and wiped the residue of Jahan’s blood from her eyes. “Baidu was here. He …” She pointed in the direction he had taken.
“Then I’m doubly sorry,” the swordsman growled. “But he’ll keep, Doquz Khatun.” He gestured again, towards the nails where hung the saddles. “There is no time now; we must be gone from here before the garrison is alerted.”
“Who are you? How did you know …?”
“People call me an outlaw and rebel but, once, I was your father’s friend, Princess,” the swordsman answered. “Even if you had been willing, I would not have permitted you to wed his assassin!”